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Outsmarting Campaign Propaganda

When political persuasion crosses the line, conferences, D-Day anniversary and more!



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Vote 2020

Although the 2020 election is over 500 days away, more than two dozen notable candidates already are running for president of the United States. Campaign season is in full swing. And, in a troubling sign of the times, so are the increasing number of disinformation campaigns about the candidates, created with the intent to spread false information and mislead the public.

Last month, right-wing provocateurs Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman published a fabricated sexual assault allegation against Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg online under the name of a man who soon disavowed the claim. And false quotes by President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidates continue to circulate on social media. In an attempt to tamp down the problem, Twitter is rolling out a new tool for reporting tweets that are "misleading about voting." And at the government level, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have made permanent their task forces focusing on defending against foreign interference in U.S. elections, including propaganda and influence campaigns on social media.

It's no surprise that many presidential campaigns are using propaganda techniques such as fear-mongering and pushing "us" versus "them" scenarios in an attempt to win support and, ultimately, votes. While many people are aware of time-tested campaign strategies, such as the staged "kissing baby" photo, the current crop of candidates and their most ardent supporters are experimenting with 21st century methods to persuade and influence. There are attempts to "co-opt" the practices of trusted and objective media, like fact-checking sites and local news.

For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's campaign created a "fact-checking" website to debunk her detractors as well as the conspiracy theories being spread on the internet about her. Some critics question the site's legitimacy and impartiality, while others argue that this approach merely amplifies falsehoods that would otherwise be ignored by most voters.

The run-up to the 2020 election has also seen an increase in purported "local news" sites created by party activists that run articles promoting a candidate over others without disclosing the authors' connections to political action committees. With the lines between fact, opinion and deception so blurred, what can the electorate do to prepare for the upcoming election?



As voters begin to navigate a never-ending maze of campaign media and online information, there's never been a better time to be reminded how crucial media literacy skills are for civic engagement. We need to be able to recognize disinformation and other attempts to deceive, and do our part to avoid passing on fake news. At the same time, while there is nothing inherently wrong with the act of persuasion, it is important for people to be aware of the emotional manipulation involved in propaganda.

Students and educators can brush up on fake-news and propaganda-detecting skills with NewseumED's Media Literacy Booster Pack. We also have an infographic to help you determine whether a story or meme is "share-worthy." And you can find tips for spotting manipulation techniques with engaging graphics here.

Plus, our Decoding Elections EDCollection discusses how candidates mold campaign messages to attract voters and undermine their opponents, and provides historical perspective on today's race. Other related lessons focus on evaluating election ads and analyzing how candidates craft their images. If you wish for a more guided experience with your students, you can also book our "On the Campaign Trail: The Battle for Votes" class, which is offered at the Newseum and virtually.

As we prepare for the 2020 elections, let's all do our part to ensure that the information we consume and share is accurate. And then put that knowledge into action at the voting booth.


  • Major Anniversaries: Several significant anniversaries in U.S. history are coming up. On June 4, it'll be 100 years since Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. (The big party will come next year on the anniversary of its ratification.) We've got a curated set of resources on woman suffrage, including a timeline and lesson plans, for use in the classroom. Then, on June 6, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Explore a number of related front pages on, including Ernie Pyle's firsthand account of the carnage on the beaches and Martha Gellhorn's story on the contrasting scenes in London.
  • New Virtual Class: Battle bias from coast to coast with our new virtual class, "Is It Fair? Evaluate Your Media." In this class, students take a step back from media negativity to look at the positive: What are the qualities of fair news coverage? Through interactive activities, students will tune up their "fairness meter" to assess how objective or biased content really is.
  • AEJMC Award: NewseumED received an honorable mention in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication 2019 Best Practices Competition, focused this year on media literacy. Our entry, "The Fairness Meter: Using Journalism to Improve Students' Content Evaluation Skills," was based on a lesson in our Fact Finder EDCollection.
  • Tooting our Horn: The School Library Connection gives NewseumED high marks in its reviews section, noting that "NewseumED is an important tool for the youth of today as they are constantly inundated with virtually-mediated messages and information. They need to develop the skills to navigate this content, ask questions, and make decisions, all of which is the primary mission of NewseumED."



  • It's Baaack! Don't miss our Summer Fun Deal that runs from July 1 through Labor Day. Up to four youth (ages 7-18) get in free with each paid adult or senior admission. Tickets can be purchased online in advance. Get more information and tickets here.


EDClasses & Training

  • Religious Liberty for Students

    Students will be introduced to the principles that flow from the religious liberty clauses of the First Amendment.

  • Religious Literacy for Students

    Students will be introduced to academically rigorous and constitutionally appropriate models for analyzing the role of religion in private and public life.

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