Ethics Center Protects Democracy in Battleground State - National Ethics Project

Students fill out ballots for the Wisconsin Spring Election in Tripp Commons inside the Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of several official polling places for UW-Madison students living on campus. (Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Misinformation can acquire power through repetition, creating an illusion of truth. Such dangers lead the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Journalism Ethics in their three-prong approach to spreading the truth this election season.

“We reach out to citizens,” said Professor Kathleen Bartzen Culver, Center Director. “We reach out to journalists. Third, we work with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to pre-bunk and debunk myths.” Pre-bunking “inoculates people against viral misinformation before they are exposed,” Culver said. “We say, you might hear this, but it’s not true.”

This Election Integrity Project resulted from a weekend brainstorming session less than 5 months ago that included Culver, Center administrator Krista Eastman, and Howard Hardee, election integrity reporter. Within weeks, The Craig Newmark Philanthropies provided $80,000 to fund the team’s pro-active approach to combatting false and misleading claims. The Project publishes resource guides for journalists and citizens, and has shared the results of their own investigations on sources and accuracy of questionable claims.

Culver and Hardee are on call 24/7 to give journalists non-partisan advice for when and how to cover misinformation and disinformation. “I don’t care how people vote,” Culver said, “I care that they have truthful information to base their vote on.” Telling voters that they have the responsibility to get accurate information is not enough, Culver said. “We’ve got to do more than that. Some people out there are purposefully polluting the information pool.”

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