Once misinformation takes hold, it can be like a tsunami – gathering supernatural energy that makes it too strong to stop. Just ask the election officials in Sonoma County, California. They had it happen to them in 2020.

In the run-up to the 2020 Presidential election, photos were posted to Twitter of county ballot envelopes that had been discarded at a recycling center. The tweet only said, “SHOCKING.” The images soon showed up all over social media with exclamations of outrage. The photo were, in fact, real and recent, taken right before they were posted online.

The problem was that the envelopes were empty and were from the 2018 election. They were being disposed of according to California Elections Code, which says that materials from federal and state elections be kept for 22 months before being disposed of. In fact, the county had not yet even mailed out the ballots for the 2020 election, which was still a month away.

It didn’t matter. The damage was done. The tweet was shared more than 5,400 times across Facebook and Twitter (the platform now called X) reaching more than 10,000 people.

Sonoma County officials did a great job of responding. They took to social media quickly and did media interviews. There was, no doubt, a ton more work done as well, but it did not stave off the storm.

The point is, you can never be too prepared for a misinformation crisis. That’s why we published the new second-edition Fake News Handbook. This manual is designed to help election official plan for the worst, so they are ready for anything. It covers everything from how to set up your crisis team to what documents to prepare ahead of a disinformation event. It even tells you what not to say or do when you’re battling disinformation.

You may already have plans in place to deal with false information. Sonoma County did, but they still suffered the ill effects of fake news. The second edition handbook called, Safeguarding Elections in the Age of Fake News, is free for election officials to download. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Click this link or the image below to download it now.


Fact check: Photos of electoral mail disposed in California show empty envelopes from 2018, not 2020 mail-in-ballots, Reuters, Sept. 29, 2020


‘Tsunamis of Misinformation’ Overwhelm Local Election Officials, The New York Times, Kellen Browning and Davey Alba, Oct. 29, 2020

Related Posts

Managing the tsunami of fake news