It’s likely you’ve experienced an avalanche of election ads, mailers, and videos reminding you that it’s campaign season. (Or, perhaps, you’ve finally had to unsubscribe from endless text messages begging for just ten more dollars to save democracy.) Whether it’s hyperbolic requests for donations or misleading claims about opponents, we should be critical of the political advertising we receive. After all, North Carolina Senate races alone have a history of being among the most expensive in the country.

Like all media, it is critical to consider the source of mailers and ads that are targeted to you. Did you know that there are limited, if any, protections against outright lies in political advertising? We live in a democracy on the brink, yet we hold McDonald’s ads to higher standards than political actors. Recently in North Carolina, mailers attacking candidates have been photoshopped. Representative Brian Farkas had an image of him waving at a parade doctored with the phrase “Brian Farkas Stood With Rioters, Not Us.”

Representative Ricky Hurtado, the first Latino Democrat ever elected to the NC General Assembly, was the subject of altered mailers as well. State Senator and Congressional Candidate Jeff Jackson highlighted the images falsely showing Rep. Hurtado with a shirt saying “Defund the Police.” These doctored images are just an example of misleading advertisements that are legal.

Social Media Guidelines

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, is preparing for another season of misinformation surrounding the results of this election. As it did in 2020, Meta will be doing a blackout on new political ads in the week leading up to the November 8th elections. The company extended this blanket ban for months in response to false claims of a stolen election that fueled the January 6th Insurrection. This is an example of how dangerous these lies can be. They inspire bad actors and empower those who seek to undermine our elections.

While some TV and radio ads are subject to regulation and scrutiny, online advertisements have repeatedly avoided oversight. The Honest Ads Bill, first proposed in 2017, is one attempt to remedy the loopholes that allow blatantly false political advertisements to be promoted on social media and other websites. It extends the transparency requirements of ads on cable networks and limits the ability of foreign actors, such as Russia, from running political advertising concerning U.S. elections. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, these “vulnerabilities compromise the integrity of U.S. elections” and can make it impossible to know the actual source of the advertisements.

Impact of Misinformation

False advertising can further erode the faith voters have in our system. These tactics are smokescreens that blur where candidates stand on issues and dilute policy outcomes. If constituents are misled on where elected leaders stand on issues, then we can’t cast votes that accurately reflect our values and preferred policy outcomes. It makes accountability more difficult, and it becomes harder to trust in the overall fairness of the process.

The United States has lower voter turnout compared to other democracies around the world, which should cause concern. With the challenges facing the country, from historically high inflation to abortion rights, it is notable that many Americans seem unconvinced elections will not provide solutions to their concerns. We must keep in mind that some people are eligible and willing to vote but are denied access. Barriers exist for many marginalized people, including Transgender people who disproportionately face questions about their identity at the polls. A patchwork of laws that vary by state or county can create a system that disenfranchises people based on their gender identity, race, or socioeconomic status.

Threats to the Community

This is a critical moment in our history, and long-held norms are being challenged. Domestic terrorist attacks, largely from groups maintaining white supremacist ideologies, are on the rise across the country. Threats of far-right groups attacking Drag performances in North Carolina echo similar threats earlier this year in Idaho. Violence and intimidation of marginalized communities will not suddenly stop because elections are occurring. With decreased trust in elections and an increase in the willingness to resort to violence, there is increased risk to communities that are under attack, including LGBTQIA people and people of color.

In North Carolina, early voting starts on October 20th. Be an informed voter and stand up for all of our community. The future of the LGBTQIA community and our country is at stake. If we choose to sit on the sidelines at this critical juncture, then we risk the permanent loss of abortion access, voting rights, and LGBTQ protections for which generations fought. We must use every tool we have to protect our rights and our community. Voting is a critical tool we have to push for progress. Stand up today, so we can still stand up tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: Cameron Pruette currently serves as the President of the LGBTQ Democrats of Mecklenburg County and is Director of Faith Organizing at The Freedom Center for Social Justice.