False Advocacy

Written by Nalani Askov, reposted with permission with some edits.

False Advocacy: What it is. Why is it harmful? How can we stop it?

We are being inundated with urgent requests to call, email, sign petitions, text, etc. Unfortunately, many of these are “False Advocacy.”


False Advocacy is using an appeal of some kind to mislead people into engaging in some action that is supposedly an effective political strategy when in fact, it is false, ineffective or simply impossible. The real purpose of the False Advocacy action is something else, like getting your contact information to provide to another entity for a completely different purpose (like fundraising or other solicitation.)

After spending days responding to requests to engage in False Advocacy, I was motivated to write this post by a recent request, supposedly from Sen. Patty Murray, to sign a petition that I thought appeared to be another example of False Advocacy.

I researched the petition and believed it was not real. However, when I shared my concerns, others were able to point to a post on Sen. Murray’s official Facebook page that confirmed the request was legitimate. As a result, I edited my original post to reflect this.

Right now, we are being inundated with “False Advocacy” actions – everything from emailing the President to delay the Electoral College vote (he doesn’t have the legal authority to do this) and petitioning Congress to stop DT from hiring Steve Bannon (Congress has no authority over Executive Branch staff) to calling the CIA to insist they brief all Electoral College members before the vote on classified information about the Russian hacking (the CIA can’t do that either – at least not unilaterally.)


False Advocacy, like false news, is harmful. It steers people toward actions that are not effective. Engaging in these actions takes valuable time and energy from activists. It also leads people to believe they are taking effective action, when they really are not. False Advocacy is exploitative. It could even be dangerous because we don’t know who is actually getting our information and for what purpose.


We are going to be bombarded over the next four years with many opportunities to take action. Whether well meaning or not, we must be vigilant about ensuring these requests for action are not False Advocacy and that the actions we take have the potential to be effective. So, how can we avoid False Advocacy?

First – Before passing on a request for action, verify it. If the request is supposedly from Patty Murray, call her District Office and ask her staff if this is a request she is making. Or go to her official website or Facebook page. If the action isn’t mentioned, then she is probably not requesting it.

Second – If the request is not from a person or group you can contact, do some basic investigation. Run a quick internet search on the action and/or the website that is hosting the action to see if it is legitimate.

Third – Find out if the action you are being asked to advocate for has the potential to be effective. This might take some work. For example, people have been asked to contact President Obama to delay the Electoral College vote.

A few quick searches reveals that the date for the Electoral College vote was established by a vote of Congress. It is a law set out in the US Code. The President does not have the legal authority to delay the vote. If you are not able to do the research, ask someone who can. Or ask the community what they think about the legitimacy of the action before asking people to engage in the action.

Fourth – Be mindful of words. Take time to read what you are being asked to do and understand it. Be sure to compare the “ask” to the action. Watch for situations where someone asks you to sign a petition for “X” and when you go to the petition site, the action on the site is “Y” – it is different from what was initially represented.

Finally – Never rely on the supposed source of the request. It can be faked. Contact and verify.

I hope this is helpful as we face whatever challenges are ahead. May each of us be empowered to take meaningful action. I welcome your comments and suggestions for improving ways to identify and stop False Advocacy.

Thank you for all the responses and comments. I especially appreciate those who pointed out the action from Sen. Murray is on her official Facebook page. I have edited this post accordingly. Please feel free to share this publicly.



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