Experts have noticed a troubling tactic that discourages Black voters from heading to the polls this election season, NBC News reported. On top of misinformation being spread online about candidates and the electoral process, some Black social media influencers and online community groups are engaging in what's called voter depression. Potential voters are deceived into thinking there's no reason to vote. It's meant to create inaction, apathy and indifference.
“The absence of enthusiasm around a candidate can really contribute to interference in the form of voter depression,” Jacquelyn Mason said. She is a senior investigative researcher at First Draft, a nonprofit that provides research and training for journalists. Mason added that many progressive Black voters may not be excited about voting for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. As a result, they may not even head to the polls. People who use voter depression don't need to use misinformation to get their point across, though.
The influence of social media
NBC News pointed to the example of an Instagram account with over 19,000 followers. Earlier this month, the account posted a video of a young Black man asking a series of questions: “Can we vote out systemic racism? Can we vote out police violence?" The man would then answer right after these questions, saying, "The obvious answer is no. Don’t vote."
While fake accounts created by Russians targeted Black voters back in 2016, what makes these social media posts more appealing is the authenticity. Researchers say "they’re coming from accounts people already have relationships with and appear to be authentic," NBC News wrote. These accounts can have as little as 10 followers or an audience in the tens of thousands. The narratives themselves also have a "grain of truth to them," making it stick with vulnerable voters, according to Mason.
“Some of the tactics we worry a lot about and are seeing more of are from micro-influencers, like on Instagram Live,” GQR Vice President Jiore Craig said. GQR is a Democratic research firm that advises campaigns on disinformation.
Combatting the issue
Despite these mounting concerns, there are groups working to combat voter depression. Black advocacy groups, like Color of Change, are employing similar tactics to reverse the impact of voter depression. They share "relatable information from individuals voters trust" and highlight the importance of local races in the general election. Organization leaders have also sat down with big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to speak on several concerns, including transparent enforcement of policies and making sure content doesn't disenfranchise Black voters.
“While many, especially irregular Black voters or voters who might be prone to not turn out to vote, might not see the importance of electing a president and the impact on their lives," Arisha Hatch said, the vice president and chief of campaigns at Color of Change. "We are having a conversation with them about the daily decisions that prosecutors make that are causing harm in black communities, and when we engage in that conversation their mentality begins to shift."
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