How to Bear Witness To The Week Before The Election Without Going Absolutely Bonkers

How do we best bear witness to the coming week?

I’ll keep these tips short. They represent the distillation of everything I’ve learned about information friction and mindful digital engagement.

1. Don’t miss the point. Twitter forces you to pause between seeing and sharing; use that second or two to ask whether the story you’re about to share could, if it’s false, harm someone else. If you’re inclined to be especially charitable, if the story makes the other side look bad, then you are more likely to immediately share it. Pause for another second. Ask the same question. Model good behavior for yourself and for your followers.

2. Take this pledge. Write these words down in your voice. “I value the facts. I know you do, too. Between now and Election Day, I will: PAUSE before I share social media content. I will ask myself if doing so could hurt someone if it’s false — or could create confusion for people even if it’s true. I will take a moment to verify what I’m sharing.” Ask your friends to make this same pledge.

3. Digital physics 101: every action you take to spread a story, a meme, a comment brings to everyone who reads the sense that you’ve taken at least some time to verify if it’s true — OR that your brain has decided that it’s important. And imagine, for a second, how many cycles of partial verification / partial endorsements any claim goes through. Sharing implies that you’ve done work, even if you haven’t. Digital physics is not intuitive.

4. Practice mindfulness before you sit down to work online. If you don’t know how, I want you to take your hands away from the keyboard or your phone for a second. Feel the outline of your writing or typing hand. Feel the pulses of energy that make up the outline of your hand. Rest in that feeling. The moment you notice your mind is wandering, bring it back to the feeling of your hand. Do this for 20 seconds. Take a small breath in and breath out slowly. Engage your vagal response. Do this as many times as you remember to.

5. If you read or see a post about the potential for election day violence, report it to the authorities. DO NOT SHARE IT, even if you think that sharing it will make people aware of it. You do not want to make people aware of it. Let me say that again: the way digital physics works … means that if you share something to “make you aware” of something, you are assuming you know what’s in everyone’s brain, and you’re assuming that you can contain your sharing. Neither assumption is warranted. People are on the edge. I know that. You know that. Circulating rumors about election day violence or chaos can create a permission structure where the social cost of either doing harm to the other side or going out to prevent harm can spiral into a miasma. Report these posts. Don’t share them.

6. When you report misinformation online, make sure to recruit several friends to report the same misinformation — and then BLOCK the offender immediately. This will help ensure that the platform safety teams see the problem quickly.

7. You must spend time offline. Schedule this time into your day if you don’t already do so. Acknowledge your intent: you are clearing headspace.

8. Acknowledge the cognitive snares that exist, and proactively set barriers between you and those traps. For election night, cue up comedy that makes you laugh. Bring in good food. Light candles. Create an environment that serves you tranquility.

9. If you’re a candidate, a CEO, an election official, or anyone who might be the victim of a malicious information attack, create a matrix for response NOW. Be able to guess how widespread a false claim is and how harmful it might be. Choose NOT to respond if the claim isn’t widespread. If you MUST respond, use your own face, and your own voice. Don’t use texts or press releases. WORK the media; make sure that the press you generally interact with will NOT amplify a claim without FIRST checking with you. Make that call today.

10. Reach out to people who are having a hard time. Ask them what they need. Be unusually generous to yourself and to others.

Good afternoon — and good luck. You are splendid. You are enough.

Adjunct Prof., USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication; contributor at @theweek and @USAToday. Latest book: The Brink, about nuclear war.

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