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Census Bureau Fights To Prevent Spread Of Misinformation


The Census Bureau wants your help to fight off rumors about next year's big count. There are about four months left until the official start of the 2020 census, and the bureau is anticipating confusion, especially after a long controversy over a now blocked question on citizenship. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has the story.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: At a time of rising misinformation and disinformation, especially on social media, the Census Bureau has set up a new email address - rumors@census.gov.

STEPHEN BUCKNER: Once somebody emails into that box...

WANG: This is the Census Bureau's assistant communications director Stephen Buckner.

BUCKNER: We have a team that is taking a look at that information, researching it and verifying it. And then if it is gaining enough traction, we'll actually go ahead and put statements out.

WANG: Buckner says as of Thursday, the email address received about a dozen rumors. The bureau has already tried to clear some up. It's put up some frequently asked questions on the official website for the 2020 census, like...

BUCKNER: Are non-citizens counted in the census?

WANG: The Census Bureau says yes. The census includes both U.S. citizens and non-citizens who live in the country.

BUCKNER: Can I only take the census online?

WANG: The Census Bureau says no. You can also fill out a paper form or call a 1-800 number. The census is required by the U.S. Constitution, and the count only takes place once every 10 years, which Buckner says is a lot of time for people to forget about the basics.

BUCKNER: Our research has shown the more information we can put into the hands of the general public about why it's important, they really don't have a problem with participating.

WANG: Other research by the Census Bureau has shown that communities of color and immigrants are among the hardest to count for the census. Many community groups are worried that households with non-citizens have been scared off by the Trump administration's failed push to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The controversy kicked up a flurry of confusion about the count. Some census advocates say creating an email address could help the Census Bureau spot and debunk rumors.

MARIA FILIPPELLI: The timing is a factor because as we know, social media can move very quickly.

WANG: Maria Filippelli works on tech issues as part of a census campaign led by the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

FILIPPELLI: Being able to be on top of that and ideally stopping anything before it starts, it's helpful.

WANG: What's unclear is how helpful tweeter-in-chief President Trump will be as the count draws closer. NPR asked the Census Bureau how it would handle any false information about the census shared by Trump. The bureau did not respond in time for broadcast.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.

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