Quantcast
Connect with us

How disinformation could sway the 2020 election

Published

on

In 2016, Russian operatives used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to sow division among American voters and boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

What the Russians used to accomplish this is called “disinformation,” which is false or misleading content intended to deceive or promote discord. Now, with the first presidential primary vote only five months away, the public should be aware of the sources and types of online disinformation likely to surface during the 2020 election.

ADVERTISEMENT

First, the Russians will be back. Don’t be reassured by the notorious Russian Internet Research Agency’s relatively negligible presence during last year’s midterm elections. The agency might have been keeping its powder dry in anticipation of the 2020 presidential race. And it helped that U.S. Cyber Command, an arm of the military, reportedly blocked the agency’s internet access for a few days right before the election in November 2018.

Temporarily shutting down the Internet Research Agency won’t be enough to stop the flow of harmful content. Lee Foster, who leads the disinformation team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye, told me in an interview that the agency is “a small component of the overall Russian operation,” which also includes Moscow’s military intelligence service and possibly other organizations. Over time, Foster said, “All of these actors rework their approaches and tactics.”

And there’s more to fear than just the Russians. I’m the author of a new report on disinformation and the 2020 election published by the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. In the report, I predict that the Russians won’t be alone in spreading disinformation in 2020. Their most likely imitator will be Iran, especially if hostility between Tehran and Washington continues to mount.

Disinformation isn’t just Russian

In May, acting on a tip from FireEye, Facebook took down nearly 100 Iranian-related accounts, pages and groups. The Iranian network had used fake American identities to espouse both conservative and liberal political views, while also promoting extremely divisive anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian themes.

As Senate Intelligence Committee co-chair Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, has said, “The Iranians are now following the Kremlin’s playbook.”

ADVERTISEMENT

While foreign election interference has dominated discussion of disinformation, most intentionally false content targeting U.S. social media is generated by domestic sources.

I believe that will continue to be the case in 2020. President Trump often uses Twitter to circulate conspiracy theories and cast his foes as corrupt. One story line he pushes is that Facebook, Twitter and Google are colluding with Democrats to undermine him. Introducing a right-wing “social media summit” at the White House in July, he tweeted about the “tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination, and suppression practiced by certain companies.”

Supporters of Democrats also have trafficked in disinformation. In December 2017, a group of liberal activists created fake Facebook pages designed to mislead conservative voters in a special U.S. Senate race in Alabama. Matt Osborne, who has acknowledged being involved in the Alabama scheme, told me that in 2020, “you’re going to see a movement toward [political spending from undisclosed sources] on digital campaigns in the closing days of the race.” He suggests there could be an effort to discourage Republicans from voting with “an image of a red wave with a triumphal statement that imbues them with a sense of inevitable victory: ‘No need to bother voting. Trump has got it in the bag.’”

ADVERTISEMENT

Spreading fake videos

Also likely to surface next year: “deepfake” videos. This technique produces highly convincing – but false – images and audio. In a recent letter to the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, wrote: “A timely, convincing deepfake video of a candidate” that goes viral on a platform “could hijack a race – and even alter the course of history. … The consequences for our democracy could be devastating.”

Just one example of a deepfake video.

Instagram could be a vehicle for deepfakes. Owned by Facebook, the photo and video platform played a much bigger role in Russia’s manipulation of the 2016 U.S. election than most people realize, and it could be exploited again in 2020. The Russian Internet Research Agency enjoyed more user engagement on Instagram than it did on any other platform, according to a December 2018 report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Instagram is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis,” the report added.

ADVERTISEMENT

Companies could step up

The social media companies are responding to the problem of disinformation by improving their artificial intelligence filters and hiring thousands of additional employees devoted to safety and security. “The companies are getting much better at detection and removal of fake accounts,” Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Platform Accountability Project, told me.

But the companies do not completely remove much of the content they pinpoint as false; they merely reduce how often it appears for users, and sometimes post a message noting that it’s false.

In my view, provably false material should be eliminated from feeds and recommendations, with a copy retained in a cordoned-off archive available for research purposes to scholars, journalists and others.

ADVERTISEMENT

Another problem is that responsibility for content decisions now tends to be scattered among different teams within each of the social media companies. Our report recommends that to streamline and centralize, each company should hire a senior official who reports to the CEO and is responsible for overseeing the fight against disinformation. Such executives could marshal resources more easily within each company and more effectively coordinate efforts across social media companies.

Finally, the platforms could also cooperate more than they currently do to stamp out disinformation. They’ve collaborated effectively to root out child pornography and terrorist incitement. I believe they now have a collective responsibility to rid the coming election of as much disinformation as possible. An electorate that has been fed lies about candidates and issues can’t make informed decisions. Votes will be based on falsehoods. And that means the future of American democracy – in 2020 and beyond – depends on dealing effectively with disinformation.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]The Conversation

Paul M. Barrett, Deputy Director, Center for Business and Human Rights, Stern School of Business; Adjunct Professor of Law, New York University

ADVERTISEMENT

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

2020 Election

Sanders will not attend AIPAC conference over concern for ‘basic Palestinian rights’

Published

on

"You can support the Palestinian and Israeli people without supporting leaders or organizations that oppose the freedom and liberation of the Palestinian people."

Democratic 2020 presidential primary frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders earned the praise of progressives after announcing on Sunday he would not attend the annual AIPAC conference due to his concerns over the group's willingness to endorse the views of bigots and its dismissal of the human rights of Palestinians.

Continue Reading

2020 Election

Millions of people can vote but don’t — even in swing states. Here’s why

Published

on

PHILADELPHIA — Patricia Robinson registered to vote when she was 18.At 79, she still hasn’t seen anybody worth voting for.“I don’t vote because I haven’t seen anybody that doesn’t have their hand into something,” she said. “They’re all a bunch of crooks.”Robinson, a retired hospital worker in Erie, is one of 100 million people who sit out election after election, according to a new study. Nonvoters have a number of reasons for not participating. But in general they tend to dislike politicians and political parties, distrust the electoral system to accurately count votes and the political syste... (more…)

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

Is corporate media creating a misleading impression of voter sentiment? 91 percent of Nevada Dem voters said ‘no’

Published

on

We caution readers to be very careful in interpreting the Democratic primary election results so far for reasons cited below. We think the way our major news organizations are reporting the primary results can easily create a misleading impression of voter sentiment.

The analysis below should give you pause whether you think Sanders is, and should be, a shoo-in to beat Trump or you fear that a Sanders nomination will ensure a second Trump term and a romp by Republican Congressional candidates.

We ask ardent supporters and foes of Sanders, or any other candidate, to avoid a hot or presumptive reaction to what follows, a concern based on many responses to some of my caucus night tweets and Facebook posts in recent weeks.

Continue Reading
 
 
close-image