Previous: What is the MediaWise Voter Project? | MediaWise Voter Guide #1
Next: Following The Money: Where candidates and PACs get their funding | MediaWise Voter Guide #3



View count:6,772
Last sync:2024-05-18 14:30
This week we're diving into how to how to find out everything you need to know about the candidates and issues on your ballot.

For more information on this, check out Crash Course: Navigating Digital Information:


Follow us!


MediaWise is a nonprofit, nonpartisan project of the Poynter Institute and supported by Facebook. Complexly is an MVP partner, as are Campus Vote Project and Students Learn, Students Vote.
There are a lot of things about, like, being a person that we digital natives definitely should have been taught in school.

Like, how do I open a bank account? How do I do my taxes?

How do I write a resume? Luckily, we’re used to using the internet to answer our burningest – burningest? Is burningest a word?

Computer assistant, is burningest a word??? COMPUTER ASSISTANT: Burningest is most definitely not a word. Burning or most burning. But no burning-est. It’s 2020.

This is a video series for young people, most of whom have never lived in a world where the internet didn’t exist. I could tell you about how in the olden days, people answered their questions by traveling out of their houses to go to the library, opening up a paper encyclopedia. Yada yada yada.

Or we could jump right to the part where I tell you how to understand this overwhelming, endless digital landscape you were born into. And how to use that understanding to decide for yourself what candidates and issues you want to support and vote for. I’m Evelyn from the Internets and this is the Media Wise Voter Guide.

Let’s talk about research. [Theme Music]. In the lead up to a general presidential election, we hear a LOT about the presidential candidates. It makes sense, right?

They’re applying for the most important job in the country. You’d hope to hear a lot more about them than like, the next Avengers movie. Or, like, at least the same amount.

But your average ballot is going to have many more questions on it than just “Do you accept this rose?” —I mean, Do you accept this president? Like I said, the presidential candidates get a lot of attention, but what about the senators, representatives, governors, mayors and countless other elected officials that are vying for new gigs? And then there are ballot questions, in which your city or state might ask for your opinion on an amendment to your city charter or state constitution.

There are a number of ways you can find out the positions of candidates running for office and get information about ballot questions. For starters, you can join a town hall event, where candidates answer audience questions on what we call the issues. Some of these events will focus on a specific topic, like healthcare or gun violence.

Others will be more general and open to any topic of concern. Of course, these events might look a little different in 2020, thanks to social distancing. Even before the pandemic, candidates across the political spectrum held virtual town halls.

These are online, rather than IRL. You just log into a live video feed and enter your questions in a chatroom. Come prepared with questions.

Depending on the level of office, IRL town halls may be open audience Q&As where you line up at the mic and have your shot. Others have campaign staffers screen questions from the audience. That way you minimize all the people who say, “This is more of a comment than a question” and ramble for 10 minutes.

How do you find out about these town halls? Well, the same way you can learn about a candidate’s viewpoints straight from the horse’s mouth. Follow them on social media.

Presidential campaigns have accounts on every platform you can think of, but even your local deputy comptroller may have a Facebook page. It might even explain what a deputy comptroller is. Candidates for government office also often have campaign websites where they list their proposed policies and qualifications.

These will give you an idea of why they think they’re the right person for the job. Those websites will also usually list upcoming events like town halls. Of course, messaging from any candidate’s official channels has one goal: to get them elected.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean their words are untrustworthy; it’s just something to remember as you read. That objective – getting them elected – may color which policies they talk about or which issues they emphasize. Take a minute to analyze what topics they don’t have messaging about.

That will tell you what is and what is not important to them. To get a different perspective on the candidates you’re researching, there are a few great avenues. First, you can try local news sources, particularly if you’re looking for information on state- or city-level candidates.

Oftentimes, candidates in smaller races, or just outside of the presidential race, don’t get much coverage outside their region. Your local newspaper or news site may be the best way to keep tabs on the day-to-day campaign updates and upcoming events. Voter guides are another great resource.

These guides come in many shapes and sizes, but they typically focus on one of two things: 1) Telling you who’s on your ballot 2) Telling who to choose on that ballot. Those “who’s on my ballot” databases are super helpful. Say you’re not always plugged into your local elections, or you just moved somewhere new.

A resource like, or can pull up what your ballot will look like based on your address. That’s a great jumping off point for further research. You can’t dig into a candidate’s policies if you don’t even know who’s running, right?

Then there’s the guides that look to persuade you towards particular candidates. They usually consist of articles explaining different candidate policies and the arguments for voting one way or the other. A variety of advocacy organizations and community groups also put out these kinds of guides.

These endorse candidates based on how they do or do not support the goals of that organization, whether it’s supporting a geographic region or an industry or a group of people. Ok but: what if you don’t want to be guided? You’re an independent woman like Beyonce and you can make your own decisions.

So, how do you start gathering that info for yourself? If you’re not finding what you’re looking for in voter guides, hit up the old Googs and search your favorite topics and your candidate’s name. But, this isn’t some wily-nily, research free-for-all.

No matter what you find, you need to practice good civic online reasoning. When we encounter new information, we take a step back to evaluate it. A helpful place to start is the 5 W’s you may have learned in elementary school – who, what, when, where and why.

Whatever information you find online, ask yourself:. Who is saying it? What is their proof and what are other people saying?

When was this published? Where was this published? And why is this being published?

Now, you’re not always going to need all 5 questions to vet every piece of information you come across, but they’re a good place to start. To better understand these questions it helps to see how this process would play out, so meet Sam. They want to learn about the Mayor of Springfield and what she has to say about increasing the minimum wage.

Sam could search “Mayor Shero” and “minimum wage”. The results that populate include:. Mayor Shero’s reelection campaign website.

A link to the Springfield Daily Newspaper with a story headlined “Protesters picket City Hall seeking higher minimum wage”. A link to another story, this time from a site you don’t recognize. It says, “Mayor Shero wants to lower minimum wage.

Can you believe it??” The homepage for a local group called Raise Our Wages. Now before Sam dives in, they’ll want to give each of these results a look over instead of just picking the first one. Reading the snippets on a search engine result page can teach you a lot about the sources you’re about to enter.

This is sometimes a good place to ask yourself that “why” question. Why anything is being published on Mayor Shero’s campaign website is “to convince you to reelect her.” Why things are being published by that local group is to advance its cause. Maybe Shero’s campaign site will have some information, and the story about protesting city hall seems related.

But this story about lowering the minimum wage -- that sounds kind of…wild, right? Sam wants to check it out. But they’re prepared to be skeptical.

This comes from a website that’s just called Springfield News Site. Sam hasn’t heard of it before, so they scroll through the story. It claims that Mayor Shero went on a tirade at an unnamed restaurant claiming she wanted to lower the minimum wage so everyone would make less money.

Sam doesn’t think that’s a great way to get elected. So they ask -- who is saying this? There’s no byline on this story, so they jump to “where” this story is being published.

Sam looks for the website’s “About” page. It simply says, “Proud to be your city’s oldest operating news source.” Which doesn't really help. So Sam pops the Springfield News Site into their search engine and it comes up on a list of fake news sites.

It describes Springfield News Site as a source of falsehoods mixed in with real news. Hmm. Really not confident in this site now, but back to the article.

What is the proof for this tale about Mayor Shero? Just a few lines of text from an unnamed patron of an unnamed restaurant. That isn’t a ton of evidence to go on.

Sam definitely suspects that this is false. Time to see what other sources have to say. Sam goes back to those first search results for minimum wage.

The Springfield Daily Newspaper’s story about protesting may have some info. Sam sees a byline -- when they click through it leads to a verified Twitter handle with that reporter’s name. Cool, looks like a real person.

Sam sees that in the story, protestors were asking City Hall and Mayor Shero to raise the minimum wage to $15. Mayor Shero met with them and said she’s putting together a plan to raise it by the end of this year. There’s even a photo of Shero meeting the protestors.

Sam also checks the date to see when the article was published and... That was a month ago. So, it looks like this info is relatively up to date.

It appears that the first site Sam visited was untrustworthy. It didn’t provide any information about where the news was coming from, and had little evidence to back up its story. Another outlet that had more evidence for their claims disputes the first story entirely.

Sam successfully used those key questions to get to the bottom of it. Anytime you encounter new online information you can use these questions to investigate. That goes for Tweets, Instas, articles, Tik Toks -- you can evaluate them all.

And it’s critical that you do so whenever you’re researching. Because when you’re deciding who should be in charge of your town or state or country, you need to know all the facts you can. That includes attending town hall events online or reading campaign materials, and doing your due diligence when you go hunting on your own.

By taking a moment to reflect on evidence and sources, you’ll ensure you’re prepared for election season. And really, any information that comes your way. It’s your new super power.

Go use it! The MediaWise Voter Project is led by The Poynter Institute – that's a journalism teaching non-profit. Complexly, the creator of this video, is a partner on MVP.

And so are Campus Vote Project and another cool coalition organization called Students Learn, Students Vote. The MediaWise Voter Project is supported by Facebook.