I’m not from the United States, so I never fully understood how the elections there worked. It was only a couple of months ago, when I asked my classmates at Cuny’s Social Journalism program, that I understood the concept of voting by mail. It is only logical. More than 320 million people voting, wow! I grew up in Venezuela, with its 30 million inhabitants, and then moved to Chile, which only has 16 million.
So, when were asked to join Pro Publica and First Draft’s Electioland team my first step was to learn all the words and process I didn’t know. How could I catch miss info if I couldn't tell what's real and what no? Because that was our job, along with students from universities from all over the United States: monitoring miss info related to the electoral process.
I faced the challenge. It was journalism, and I’m a journalist. There’s a saying in Spanish: el que es perico, donde quiera es verde. Parakeets are green wherever they’re. If you are a journalist, you are a journalist here, there and elsewhere.
But that was the biggest challenge, the biggest challenge was the lack of pizza. Lack of pizza meaning: we couldn’t be in a newsroom together! We couldn’t feel the rush of adrenaline as results start to come in! We couldn’t eat tons of pizza!
And, if you were wondering, I’m not in the photo used at the top of this. That is just the photo the ProPublica team used to announce the project.
With amazing organization skills -Marie Kondo would be proud- the First Draft team managed to overcome this. We did a training with YouTube videos explaining all the tools we will use, Diara Townes, part of the team, came to our class and explain all and they created a really thoughtful Slack workspace, divided into regions and tasks. They also had a Google sheet where we could keep track of the shifts we worked and the state we focused on.
Me, being as Latina as you can be, spend almost all of my shifts working with Florida. Miami is the capital of Latin America, after all. On my first shift, I noticed something: miss info posts are harder to find when you’re looking for them on purpose.
A hard part of finding these miss info post is that usually, they don’t use the exact word. For example, they may use steal instead of fraud. They may use sending a vote instead of voting by mail. A really fun part about this assignment was thinking of alternatives ways people could say things related to the election. I made a massive Google doc with a lot of synonyms!
But still, it wasn't an easy task.
On daily basis, I see my aunts posting things that have nothing to do with the reality on every social media network existing. Not every post related to the USA, obviously, but many of them were related to the election, given the fact that Trump has been really vocal against the Venezuelan dictatorship.
Of course, none of my aunts are North American citizens nor have an influence in public opinion, which was what I was looking for. If a post about something totally unrealistic had 1 retweet, the impact they can have is minimal. If we share it to say it's fake, we increase their reach.
I also learn that no all miss info has bad intentions behind (some is just people confused, some is someone not getting the numbers right) but many of it is. It doesn’t matter which party you belong to, your age or where are you located. You can post something online and if you have the right combination of followers and luck, it can go viral.
But the most important thing I learned with this: journalism is more important than ever, good colleagues are they to a good job and without adapting yourself to the ever changing situations, you won’t make it. And, of course, that we all matter. I strongly believe that the future of journalism is colaborations, and in this project, more than 150 newsrooms participated! Isn't that beautiful?