Avoid misinformation, become knowledgeable before voting in aldermanic contests

The aldermanic elections are critical to determine the quality of life in your community. Good media literacy skills are essential to prepare to vote.

SHARE Avoid misinformation, become knowledgeable before voting in aldermanic contests
Election judge Jerome Gay wait for voters to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting at the Loop Supersite at 191 N. Clark St. on Jan. 26.

Election judge Jerome Gay wait for voters to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting at the Loop Supersite at 191 N. Clark St. on Jan. 26.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago’s upcoming election is likely to change the landscape of the city for years to come. The mayoral race is one of the most contentious in years, due to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s historic yet polarizing tenure. And Chicago City Council is set for major changes in membership this spring. 

At least 16 new memberswill join the City Council, after 12 current members announced they would not be running for re-election. An additional four others resigned, and their roles have not yet been replaced ahead of the election.

If you are unhappy with the trajectory of your community, now is the time to vote and make a difference in your neighborhood.

It is critical to know who is running in your ward, as well as how to find trustworthy information about their campaigns so that you can make informed decisions at the polls.

Opinion bug

Opinion

Here are some tips to help you find credible information about the election and local candidates:

Get involved in your ward. Become familiar with your ward. Educate yourself on the assets, challenges and opportunities present in your community. Attend public community meetings and join community organizations so that you can advocate for the change you’d like to see. For more information on which ward you belong to, visit the city’s website

Stay connected with your local politicians. If you have an issue in your neighborhood, get in contact with your alderman. Follow their official pages on social media, office websites and newsletters. You can find contact information for your representative here. But keep in mind: While political websites can be informative, they are also trying to persuade you into an action, like supporting a cause or donating to a campaign.

Find credible news sources to stay informed about local issues. More Americans are turning to social media for their news and information. But anyone can post to those platforms without regard for the truth. Look for credible sources that adhere to ethical journalistic standards like fairness, balance, and transparency. Standards-based news organizations train their reporters to use multiple sources to develop news reports and hold themselves accountable when they make a mistake.

Be especially careful around election time, when partisan-leaning news outlets pump out political news under the guise of impartial journalism. Illinois has been a particular target for these publications, which are often referred to as “pink slime.” To avoid being misled, look for information about who is funding the publication and check to see whether the authors of articles have any potential conflicts of interest.

Prioritize nonpartisan election information.Nonpartisan information sources like the National Association of State Election Directors website at nased.org and the voting rights advocacy platform Vote411.org are designed to encourage civic engagement without political sway. These types of information sources are best at spelling out election protocol and your rights to participate in our democracy without trying to influence your decision-making process.

Separate news from opinion.  News is created to informthrough fair and impartial reporting about local, national and international events, issues and people of significance – while avoiding bias to give you the facts. Opinion is information that persuades you, ideally through fact-based evidence, to adopt a specific point of view. This is referred to as commentary in journalism, and typically presents as newspaper editorials, op-eds or talking heads on TV.

Avoid election rumors and propaganda. Misinformationtakes many different forms, and it’s especially hard to avoid during election seasons. Some common themes and red flags to watch out for:

  • Screenshots posted to social media without links, or t-shirts with inflammatory messages. Be skeptical if you see this, as it’s common for people to edit these sorts of images or create fake ones. If there isn’t a link to the original post, it might be a hoax.
  • Deceptively edited sound and video: Campaigns might speed up audio or slow it down to make a political point, or edit different parts together to distort a message.

Before sharing a piece of information, take time to research. Search for what other credible news sources have reported about the issue. Restrain from just clicking on the first result your search engine turns up, which could be ads or affected by algorithms that serve you targeted information.

Participating in democracy is important. But it’s also crucial to be well-informed when you vote, especially in local contests that can affect the quality of life in your own backyard. By practicing news literacy skills and relying on credible sources of information, you can make sure any vote you cast close to home is based on facts, not fiction.

DeMario Phipps-Smith is a senior manager of community learning at the News Literacy Project. He lives on the West Side of Chicago and has worked as a journalist covering local communities.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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