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ELON, N.C. (WGHP) — The first day of early voting is one week away.

This election season, fighting misinformation has been a growing priority in election offices across the country.

Dr. Amanda Sturgill is a journalism professor at Elon University. She said even if you don’t believe the fake ads and posts you come across, they can still affect your perception of a candidate even if the misinformation is unreasonable. That can have a significant effect on elections.

Dr. Sturgill suggests voters do their research before heading to the polls.

“People are online almost all day,” she said. “They’re getting ads. They’re getting social media messages and things like that. So you’ve got more stuff to filter through and less stuff to go on to know if it’s quality information or not.”

A growing number of Americans have concerns about misleading claims ahead of the midterm election. A new poll from the Pearson Institute shows that 91 percent of adults think the spread of misinformation is a problem.

Eighty percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans say it increases extreme political views, and 77 percent of respondents think it increases hate crimes.

“If you see a bad piece of information, and you believe it, and you share it with other people, you’ve just taken what was a small problem and made it a bigger problem,” Dr. Sturgill said. “Then when you’ve got hundreds of thousands of users who are all doing the same thing, it really makes the whole media environment unreliable.”

In recent months, we’ve seen an example of this in the Piedmont Triad. A fake photo of Ricky Hurtado wearing a “defund the police” shirt circulated by mail at homes across Alamance County. Hurtado is running for reelection in the State House.

Dr. Sturgill said it’s getting harder to spot the fake photos.

“What that means for people who are the consumers of news and want to be engaged citizens and thoughtful voters…they need to get better at asking questions about the information that they’re getting,” she said.

Sturgill has three questions you can ask yourself to help detect deception before casting a ballot this election season:

  • Where is the information coming from?
  • What is the source?
  • Why would a source want you to know the information?

“You’re more likely to be manipulated if you’re feeling something strongly,” Dr. Sturgill said. “If you’re feeling very happy, sad, jealous, angry, any of those kinds of things, you want to think an extra time.”

Dr. Sturgill said you have to be careful what you’re reading online. Oftentimes, you’re only getting some of the facts, and they’re taken out of a bigger context.

The polls open on Oct. 20. Early voting runs through Nov. 5 leading up to election day on Nov. 8.