Combating misinformation with the truth is a constant battle.
As Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” That has morphed over time into a quote typically misattributed to Mark Twain: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
It is ironic that a famous quote about the easy spread of misinformation is typically misattributed rather than acknowledged as an evolution of the Swift quote, at least according QuoteInvestigator.com. And it is frightening how the digital age and social media have exacerbated the problem.
As we saw on Jan. 6, 2021, misinformation is hazardous for our democracy. So are cyberthreats to our election systems, with foreign actors repeatedly looking for vulnerabilities.
“The threats are real, and we have to be more proactive,” Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs told the Editorial Board last week during a visit to The Columbian.
Hobbs is tasked with overseeing and protecting the vote in Washington. It is a position that has taken on new importance following efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Lies about widespread fraud during that election undermine public faith in our system, even though Donald Trump’s claims have repeatedly been rebuffed. Then-Attorney General William Barr said in December 2020: “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” This month, Barr told a congressional committee investigating the 2021 insurrection: “I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with, become detached from reality.”
Meanwhile, some 60 lawsuits filed on behalf of Trump’s claims were rejected by the courts, usually for a lack of evidence.
But the lies persist, typically driven by claims that, “A lot of people believe …” Such a claim is not proof; a lot of people believe the Earth is flat, despite vast evidence to the contrary.
To combat those beliefs with facts, Hobbs points to the need for educating the public about the election process. Part of that is highlighting the security of voting by mail, which is universal for elections in Washington.
Critics claim that voting by mail invites fraud. As Hobbs points out, collecting ballots at a central location is more secure than having those ballots at dozens of polling places under in-person voting.
He also points to unfounded claims of dead people voting or people being registered to vote at two different addresses.
“Did you know there’s something called the Election Registration Information Center that, if somebody moves to another location, it gets picked up and we can cancel that person’s vote? Or if someone dies, we’ll know about it,” Hobbs said. Washington was among the states that helped create the system in 2012; now, 31 states plus the District of Columbia share information through it.
In Clark County, the elections department has produced a seven-minute video called “Billy the Ballot 2021” that details the security measures in place for the handling of ballots. At the state level, an explanation of the process on the Secretary of State website includes: “All ballots are inspected to make sure the tabulating machine will be able to read all votes. Tabulation equipment is tested before every election to make sure it is working accurately.”
Despite these measures, misinformation lingers. Lies have a habit of traveling quickly.