Petitioners have been making their rounds on Ring Road at UC Irvine recently, attempting to lure students into signing their newest petitions. Using misinformation tactics and descriptive phrases like “funding arts in schools” or “lowering food prices,” they’ve tricked numerous students into signing a petition that actually seeks to halt and hold a referendum on AB 257, a recently signed California law that would establish a “Fast Food Council” to set minimal workplace standards for fast food workers. What’s so bad about that?
Political solicitors, while bothersome at times, are fine. They can inform citizens about pressing social and political issues, as well as upcoming election candidates. The glaring issue this year, however, is the spread of “blatant” misinformation, with some politicians going as far as to attack and spread false information about their opponents. CNN reports that candidates have lied about topics such as “when and how to vote in the U.S. midterms,” the “integrity of the voting process” and even the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Politicians like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have even spliced the comments of their opponents in ads to make them appear to have made controversial or problematic statements they never did.
Some assert that lying in campaign ads falls under free speech. But the reality is, when social media platforms and television companies fail to moderate misinformation, democracy suffers and American lives are endangered.
Republicans nationwide have declared a war on information. From the so-called “invasion” at the border, to the “passage” of Medicare for All via the Inflation Reduction Act, Republicans’ key tactic is instilling fear by spreading misinformation. And the horrifying thing is, it’s working.
No event demonstrates this more clearly than the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to prevent President Joe Biden from assuming office. During the riot, four people in the crowd died, five police officers died in the days and weeks following the riot and countless people were injured. Since then, the problem of misinformation evoking violence has not ceased. In early October this year, CNBC reported that a man in Iowa was arrested for “threatening to kill election officials in Arizona’s Maricopa County.” In Arizona, far-right conservative groups have been found monitoring ballot boxes while armed with weapons. These harmful intimidation tactics, fueled by the lies in ads and the media, scare voters and election officials away from conducting their civic duty.
Republicans have shown time and time again that their lies have the capacity to kill. So why are they still allowed to spread them? We don’t need to restrict their speech entirely, but in the same way the Federal Trade Commission prohibits misleading information about products, why can’t we prohibit the lies of politicians?
Last year, a Trump supporter was prosecuted for spreading a meme in 2016 that encouraged people to vote over Twitter, which is obviously not possible. More importantly, however, he was charged with conspiracy to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person … in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution,” according to court documents.
In this case, he infringed on others’ right to vote; but the right to live life free of the threat of political violence is an inherent human right, even if it isn’t written in the Constitution. Even more important than disrupting voter rights, Republican lies have led to political violence that ended lives. This should be enough to prevent politicians and other far-right Republican groups from continuously spreading this virus of misinformation.
While there’s no clear legal way to prevent politicians from lying, one way to counteract them is to vote. For Democrats who have been campaigning against misinformation for months leading up to the midterms, this tactic seems to have worked. Most, if not all election deniers running for statewide offices like governor and Secretary of State lost their races, as well as election denying U.S. Senate candidates like Blake Masters in Arizona and Adam Laxalt in Nevada.
The so-called “Red Wave” never came into fruition, and election deniers are to blame. Still, the war on information is far from over. Election deniers like Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake continuously casted doubt on election results days after the election, as vote counting made it more and more apparent that she would lose. This can also be seen in the fact that some election deniers didn’t lose, including a large number of House candidates and senators like Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson. The party also seems to be aligning itself with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is just as much a spout of misinformation as Trump, whether it be about COVID-19 or migrants.
When it comes to social media and television advertisements, it’s the responsibility of the companies that run such advertisements to prevent these lies from airing, thus protecting citizens from the violence and partisanship that comes with it. For the average citizen, however, we need to vote to counteract this misinformation.
That can range from publicly calling out the predatory petitioners that camp out on Ring Road, to making sure that your friends don’t fall into misinformation traps on social media. Whatever the circumstance, do something! People’s livelihoods depend on it.
Chaya Sandhu is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mohammad “Moh” Samhouri is a 2022-23 Copy Chief. He can be reached at email@example.com.