Vote smart: Don’t be manipulated


Screenshots via Zoom

Host Jennifer Saito and the panelists at the Oct. 15 meeting.

Weston Hopkins, Editor-in-Chief

The Los Medanos College Honors Transfer Program hosted Vote Smart! Information Literacy and the 2020 Election Thursday Oct. 15. The virtual panel kicked off the first of a three part series the program will host throughout October. 

Honors Director Jennifer Saito led the panel which included LMC Brentwood Librarian Roseann Erwin, DVC History professor Nolan Higdon, and LMC Journalism professor Cindy McGrath. 

The panel began with a quick introduction from each panelist, and then Saito began asking voter-specific questions such as where students can find reputable voter information, how social media and internet algorithms disseminate information, and the responsibility that social media companies have to make sure information is true.

The first question focused on the best and worst places to seek out voter information. Erwin urged students to visit the LMC library website voter information page which contains links to nonpartisan voting guides, registrations dates, and websites that fact-check all kinds of information.

Saito then asked the panelists about social media and how the companies running those sites decide what each individual user will end up seeing.

“So algorithms are special formulas that software designers use to figure out what it’s going to put in your feed,” said Erwin. 

Higdon expanded on this idea and described social media as advertising companies that have the cheapest labor in the world. Users give their information to these companies and the companies in turn analyze that information to connect those users with content they will like.

“They use that analysis to construct content that will either nudge or direct our behavior, usually to purchase something but also how we vote and interpret candidates,” said Higdon.

McGrath added that users are “feeding our own lack of privacy” by giving personal information to these companies, which then use that information to make money.

Another question asked the panelists to weigh in on social media’s responsibility in making sure the information on their sites are true.

“The bait and switch that’s gone on recently is that the tech companies have contracts with the government. And so they’re doing a lot of this data collection and the government’s using it. So, this is censorship and surveillance by proxy,” said Higdon.

He describes the situation as complex and that ultimately tech companies have the responsibility to not manipulate its users. Erwin agreed, describing that whether it was intentional or not, these companies are now some of the largest news providers in the world but aren’t held up to the same standards of fact-checking that traditional news organizations are.

To wrap up, Saito asked the panelists how the pandemic has affected everyone’s ability to find factual information during the 2020 election cycle.

“People actually have more access to some kind of information and less to another,” said McGrath. 

She added that during a normal election cycle, people typically chat with friends, family, and coworkers in person, discussing their views and thoughts about the candidates and various propositions. This has been limited due to the pandemic, causing people to be in front of their screens much more than they usually would.

The next event in the series will be hosted Oct. 20 from 1-2 p.m. To attend that meeting, please follow this link. The recording of the Oct. 15 meeting can be found here.