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Fact vs Falsehood

A recent rumor making the rounds on social media told Americans that going to  2020census.gov and filling out their census forms would make them eligible for a stimulus check during the coronavirus emergency.

While it’s true that the federal government passed a $2 trillion relief package to help unemployed workers affected by the pandemic, census responses are not tied to the stimulus package.

The rumor is unfounded, says the Census Bureau, like the surfeit of posts circulating on social media that falsely claim the census will demand citizenship and social security numbers, request money and donations, ask about political party preference and extract bank and credit card details.

Falsehoods like these say census officials, misinform people and lead them to make decisions that can imperil the decennial and the accuracy of the national headcount.

The implications are severe – people who refuse to participate because they fear the falsehoods, could lose millions of dollars in federal funding for their families and communities, and the opportunity for fair representation in Congress after the count.

Troubleshooting & Discrediting Rumors

“The rise of digital and social media use has exponentially increased the speed of how accurate and inaccurate information can spread,” said Stephen Buckner, assistant director for communications at the U.S. Census Bureau. “We know that many people may not know what the census is because it happens only every 10 years, making it a likely target for misinformation and disinformation campaigns, which is why we’ve been actively preparing to defend against them.”

The Census Bureau has set up a Trust & Safety Team to prevent the spread of fake, false and inaccurate information, that can negatively impact census participation.

“If people get the wrong information about the 2020 Census — intentionally or unintentionally — it poses a problem for all of us,” writes Dr. Ron S. Jarmin, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the  U.S. Census Bureau. His team will ‘actively fight’ the spread of misinformation (incorrect information spread unintentionally) and disinformation (incorrect information spread intentionally), to protect the count.

Fear, Frauds and Scams

Unfortunately, the social channels the census uses to promote the count are the same ones through which fraudsters and other ‘malicious sources‘ share misinformation or disinformation in attempts to dissuade people from responding, say census officials, which can lead to an undercount.

A recent post on FB falsely claimed that people posing as “officials from the Department of Home Affairs were going door-to-door to verify that everyone has a valid ID” for the 2020 census, reports Factcheck.org.

It’s a hoax say census officials, that could negatively impact the count, like fear of the citizenship question still does.

Concerns about the  citizenship question on the census sparked confusion and fear, especially among immigrants and people of color who are among hard-to-count populations say census officials; even after the Supreme Court rejection,  some commentators  on social media continued to push for its inclusion, arguing that undocumented immigrants should not be included in the count.

Debunking the Rumors

The bureau is partnering with social media platforms, community organizations, advocacy groups and the public, to dispel rumors, identify phony information and swiftly respond with factual content as needed.

Putting Rumors to Rest

On its official website  the Census Bureau provides FAQs to counteract popular myths about the census.

Warnings caution the public not to cooperate with anyone who claims to be from the Census Bureau and asks for information by email or phone .

Facts debunk a theory that the bureau will send unsolicited emails to request census participation.

An alert advises people to avoid phishing scams and fake websites that could be infected by malware, as valid Census Bureau websites will always have “.gov” at the end.

Stop  misinformation from spreading

The public can email the Census Bureau at rumors@census.gov to report rumors about the 2020 census or call the Hotline at 1-800-923-8282 to report suspicious activity.

“It’s really, really important that we do it right,” Buckner said in a Facebook Live session. “There are no do-overs, so when the numbers are out, there’s a 10 year process until the next count.”

 


Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

 

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

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