Editor, Gettysburg Times,
The primary is over, and I can’t wait for the new barrage of negative ads. The various campaigns have outdone themselves this year.
Negative ads have been part of American politics since Andrew Jackson ran against John Quincy Adams for the presidency in 1828. According to Psychology Today, negative ads get people’s attention and confirm many people’s biased views- especially ads that make people fearful with ominous music and grainy images of drugs and violence.
Where is the truthfulness in all of this? Fortunately, the FCC has regulations requiring truthfulness in campaign advertisement, which may seem surprising. However, independent media and social media outlets regulate themselves and are not subject to FCC regulation. A bipartisan bill tried to address this with the Honest Ads Act, which would force political advertising online to adhere to the same stipulations as political ads on TV. The act was passed by congress, but unfortunately is being held-up by the senate.
The Pew Research Center and Elon University recently conducted a study (Internet and Technology Project) to examine the likely future impact of digital technology on society. Over 10,000 experts in political marketing and other disciplines were interviewed. The final report (The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online) found the experts were evenly split on whether the information environment would improve or get worse. Another study (Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News) found most of the U.S. public is not very good at distinguishing between facts (Biden won) and false information (the big lie). More than 5,000 adults were tasked to distinguish between factual statements and opinions. Almost all of the responses were slightly better than random guesses.
Fortunately, there are initiatives to reverse this. The News Literacy Project, established in 2006, is a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit that teaches middle and high school students how to know what to believe in the digital age. There is also a tool teachers have been using called Checkology, which is a free e-learning platform designed to teach students how to identify misinformation. It has been used by more than 115,000 students in every state and overseas. Assessment data shows the vast majority of students are becoming more interested in news, more skeptical, more confident in their judgments, and more eager to become civically involved and vote. Pennsylvania voters also need to do more fact-checking before we wake up in the land of Oz.