Combating election disinformation in the workplace: New IPR research reveals strategies for managing content and inoculating stakeholders

by | Jul 1, 2024 | Public Relations

The scenario is ripe for chaos in the coming months as the presidential-election battle heats up, along with the vitriol of a divided nation—we have the already out-of-control spread of disinformation, sure to be intensified by the malicious use of generative AI, which is also roaming the web uncontrolled, easily taking the form of still-new deepfakes that most consumers can’t distinguish from real information. Plus, we have two candidates plagued with doubt by many, at least one of whom is already notorious for untruths. And add to that a troublesome election last time around, when the spread of disinformation ultimately shook the very foundation of democracy in its ugly aftermath. So what could go wrong this year?

The best approach to lessening the impact of disinformation is to treat it like the crisis it is—and make every effort to get out in front of the trouble ahead. New research from The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) is attempting to do just that—the Institute and its IPR Behavioral Insights Research Center have released a new study, How Communicators Can Help Manage Election Disinformation in the Workplace, featuring research from leading scholars in multiple fields to break down the science behind disinformation. 

This study explores how disinformation spreads through biases and cognitive science. This report also analyzes how employers can inoculate their employees and stakeholders against election disinformation, best practices for screening content for disinformation, and research-based tips for how organizations should manage disinformation. 

“As the election comes closer, disinformation is bound to be rampant,” said Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, president and CEO of IPR and co-author of this report, in a news release “With a comprehensive guide to managing disinformation, organizations are better prepared to combat disinformation in the workplace.” 

election disinformation

Some key findings include: 

Inoculate employees against disinformation

Communicators should understand election-related topics that are used to discredit and cast doubt on the election process. One way to inoculate people against disinformation is “prebunking,” a proactive strategy that exposes people to logical fallacies or false information before they encounter it (Cook et al., 2017; Institute for Public Relations, 2020). This brief provides a research-driven checklist on how to prebunk.

“Disinformation is rampant in elections globally, and research finds that 80 percent of employees want their organizations to help ensure a free and fair election without partisanship,” said McCorkindale. “Organizations also benefit from helping increase digital, media, and information literacy in their employees.”

election disinformation

Serve as a trusted resource about elections and election processes

According to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer, 79 percent of respondents trusted their employer as a source of information overall. Companies can provide their employees with nonpartisan voting information (e.g., polling locations, how elections work) or resources where they can go for more information to help them build confidence and participate in the election process. Nonpartisan, nonprofit sources for election information can be found within the brief.

Equip employees with tools for identifying disinformation

There are several organizations and online tools to help identify or detect disinformation. Here are just a few examples from the IPR Disinformation Resource Library, which contains over 30 different resources: 

  • News Literacy Project: Nonprofit that focuses on educating the U.S. public on news literacy and how to detect mis-/disinformation.
  • Bad News: Online game that teaches users about the techniques involved in the dissemination of disinformation.
  • Association for Psychological Science: Published “Countering Misinformation with Psychological Science,” a paper that features a “misinformation prevention kit” for policymakers, the scientific community, the media, and members of the public.

“Equipping leaders and employees with the knowledge and tools to identify disinformation will help them think critically about the information they receive during election season and beyond,” said Olivia K. Fajardo, M.A., IPR Director of Research and co-author, in the release. “This is crucial for the success of organizations overall.”

election disinformation

Avoid partisan politics

Endorsing a partisan viewpoint can lead to “reduced levels of psychological safety among workers who identify with a different political party, which in turn can adversely affect engagement, innovation, productivity, and retention” (American Psychological Association, 2022). Keeping company communication about upcoming elections neutral will help employees with differing political viewpoints feel psychologically safe. 

Read the full report here.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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