Our Opinion: Separating campaign fact from fiction

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The November elections, which will choose a president and determine control of the House and Senate, are of critical importance to say the least. Voters will need to be informed and there will be plenty of information out there. And misinformation as well.

In 2016, voters were subject to partisan misinformation campaigns, largely through social media. Facebook was a major offender, and in spite of its promises to do better it continues to be a prime source of fiction posing as fact. A related issue is the presence of organizations with legitimate-sounding names passing along partisan propaganda while disguising their partisan connections.

NewsGuard, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, has published a study warning that Republican and Democratic campaign organizations are using "shady 'news' sites to spread political propaganda." NewsGuard offers a couple of helpful examples.

FreeTelegraph.com sounds as if it could be the website for a long-established newspaper. The site offers consistent praise for Republican governors for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and consistent criticism of Democratic governors for their mishandling of the crisis. At the bottom of each story is a note that FreeTelegraph.com is "Sponsored by the Republican Governors Association," an admission that its "reporting" is not objective. On its Twitter site, reveals NewsGuard, is the claim that the site is "your home for breaking conservative news and political opinion," but there is no mention of the connection to the Republican governors group.

American-Ledger.com specializes in negative information on Republican candidates up for election in 2020. NewsGuard describes the site as "a hub for anti-GOP opposition research." At the bottom of each long page is a note saying "Paid for by AB PAC," an essentially meaningless statement for readers who don't know that AB PAC is American Bridge PAC, a leading Democratic SuperPAC. American-Ledger's Twitter page makes no reference to its sponsoring organization. Like FreeTelegraph.com, this is not a place to go for unbiased campaign information.

Where can readers go for legitimate, clearly sourced information on the elections? Newspapers pride themselves on providing factual information and the news services of the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press among others offer their clients credible, balanced stories on politics and government. ProPublica is a reliable website for objective political news and investigative reporting.

It is the obligation of voters to be informed, and it's unfortunate that there are so many sources designed to misinform. That makes it more difficult for voters to fulfill their obligation but it doesn't relieve them of it. This election season, voters must find news sources they can rely on and be skeptical of those whose biases are obvious or cleverly disguised. The future of America's democracy, under assault from within and from outside sources, depends upon voters meeting their obligations and voting accordingly.

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