The Free Internet Project

Blog

How Russian Interference May Target Black Voters and Foment Racial Discord in U.S.

Russia is reportedly continuing its U.S. election interference tactics that it deployed in 2016, in particular targeting race as a method to depress minority voters and turnout. Russia stoked anger and fear through the spread of disinformation in the U.S. to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election, as a bipartisan report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found [Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and Volume 4]. Russia's primary method of disinformation used social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A March 10, 2020 article in the New York Times reports that, in the 2016 election, Russian "operatives tried to stoke racial animosity by creating fake Black Lives Matter groups and spreading disinformation to depress black voter turnout." Russia is now expanding its efforts to interfere with the 2020 U.S. elections. Russia’s current goal, according to multiple intelligence officials, is to create chaos within the United States by using racial discord as a wedge. American officials have noted several ways that Russia has tried to spread disinformation, create fear, and stoke anger. According to the NYT article, the two primary methods are (1) incentivizing white nationalist groups to spread more hate and (2) manipulating black groups by infiltrating them to create more divisions and fear. Race is being weaponized by Russia in its efforts to interfere with the 2020 U.S. election. 

In the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, black voter turnout was down. It is clear from Russia's 2016 disinformation campaign targeting minority voters, particularly black voters, that Russian interference is highly sophisticated and advanced. As noted in the New York Times article, many of the accounts on Instagram targeting a black audience dated back to January 2015. The Russian interference on the African American community goes beyond Facebook and Twitter voter disinformation. It is on Instagram and other platforms.  

With regards to the 2020 election, direct action is being taken now in contrast to 2016. The FBI has a Foreign Influence Task Force to investigate election interference. According to the NYT, "[t]he F.B.I. is scrutinizing any ties between Russian intelligence or its proxies and Rinaldo Nazzaro, an American citizen who founded a neo-Nazi group, the Base." A VOA article dives into efforts being made to decipher false information on social media.  Being aware of the role of Russia in the suppressing of minority and particularly black votes changes things. Various advocacy groups are taking actions to combat the disinformation and hold both social media platforms and government official accountable. "Social media companies pledged new security measures aimed at finding and removing coordinated manipulation campaigns before they spread fake content," VOA reported.

Many African American voters get their political news through the use of social media (50% in 2014). That is why it is imperative that they be made aware of Russia’s role in disinformation and also the ways in which they are being targeted. In an interview with NPR, Charlene Oliver of the Equity Alliance talks about how groups like hers plan to get out the black vote and the impact that knowing Russia’s role in 2016 has on their work. For many people, the effectiveness of Russia’s interference in 2015 came as a surprise. Now groups like the Equity Alliance are using the lessons from 2016 to drive their voter protection efforts for this year’s election. Oliver mentions that voter information is essential to combat online disinformation meant to suppress the vote. With advocacy groups working for direct voter education, others are working to hold government officials accountable.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, asked to be informed about the steps the United States Justice Department is taking or has taken to address the ongoing Russian interference on the election. In the letter they note how Russia has evolved in their spread of disinformation. The attacks have moved to areas of the web that are less monitored such as private groups on social media platforms and also private chat groups. In these groups Russia attempts to stoke racial tensions in America and evoke fears in an effort to keep voters away from the polls. The NAACP is asking Attorney General Barr to prohibit voter suppression efforts through the use of the Voting Rights Act and also through executive action to promote election security. They also note that African American voters must both contend with domestic and international voter suppression efforts, so it is imperative that policy action be taken. 

According to some legal experts, however, Barr seems to be protecting President Donald Trump, whose campaign benefited from the 2016 Russian interference. Barr is investigating the origin of the federal investigation into Russian interference, in an apparent attempt to discredit the Mueller Report and the entire U.S. investigation into Russian interference. In an op-ed, Emily Bazelon and Eric Posner list the questionable actions of Barr, "an attorney general whose loyalty to a president stands ahead of his fidelity to the rule of law."

With the awareness of the role of Russia in 2016, the spread of information in the 2020 election is being watched closely. As noted in the NAACP letter to Barr, Russia will not use all of the same election interference methods they used in 2016. New methods will be created. That is why greater safeguards should be adopted by both the U.S. government and by social media companies. It is unclear how the nationwide and international protests of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's brutal killing of George Floyd, along with the separate killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in Georgia and Kentucky, will change the dynamics of the 2020 elections. It is possible that, instead of depressing voter turnout, the protests will lead to greater voter turnout, with more people civically engaged and demanding accountability.

-written by Bisola Oni

Section 230 protections for Internet platforms come under attack in U.S.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act [text] was enacted in 1996. Many commentators have hailed Section 230 as giving birth to the explosion of expression, businesses, social media, applications, and user-generated content on the Internet.  The reason is that Section 230 shielded Internet platforms from potentially business-ending liability, while facilitating the development of new applications enabling individuals to publish their own content online.  As Wired's Matt Reynolds puts it, "It is hard to overstate how foundational Section 230 has been for enabling all kinds of online innovations. It’s why Amazon can exist, even when third-party sellers flog Nazi memorabilia and dangerous medical misinformation. It’s why YouTube can exist, even when paedophiles flood the comment sections of videos. And it’s why Facebook can exist even when a terrorist uses the platform to stream the massacre of innocent people. It allows for the removal of all of these bad things, without forcing the platforms to be legally responsible for them." 

More recently, however, Section 230 has become a lightning rod, criticized by the Trump administration and others who disagree with shielding Internet platforms for the potentially unlawful or harmful content posted by their users. The Trump administration and conservative Republicans contend that Twitter and Google, for example, are engaging in biased content moderation that disfavors them for more liberal positions or politicians. Others criticize Section 230 as being too permissive in letting social media companies off the hook, even though there is so much disturbing, if not dangerous, content shared on their platforms. This article explains Section 230 and then the recent criticisms that the Trump administration and others have raised....

Philippine court finds Rappler journalist Maria Ressa guilty of criminal "cyber libel" for 2012 article on Wilfredo Kang

A Philippine court sent shock waves around the world as it convicted Maria Ressa, a journalist and co-founder of the site Rappler, which she started in 2012.  The court found both Ressa and journalist Reynaldo Santos Jr., the author of the article, guilty of "cyber libel" in violation of the Philippines Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.   According to

U.S. Federal Election Commission's Proposed Rule to Require Campaign Reporting of Receipt of "Valuable Information" and "Compromising Information"

In response to findings that President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign received election assistance from foreign entities, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has proposed new rules to limit foreign election contributions.  [More from NPR] . Earlier this year, two entities—Sai, Fiat Fiendum, Inc. and Make Your Laws PAC, Inc.—petitioned the FEC to amend the definition of “valuable information” under 11 CFR part 100. 

Specifically, the proposed changes would narrow the commission’s legal definition of a contribution by defining “valuable information” as information that:

  1. Is not freely available to the public;
  2. Is provided to a person regulated by the Federal Elections Campaign Act . . . at a cost less than the market rate or by a person not hired by the recipient to generate such information;
  3. Would cost a non-trivial amount for the recipient to obtain at their own expense; and
  4. Is information that would likely have the effect of influencing any election for federal office or that parties or candidate committees have traditionally expended money to obtain.

If accepted, the following definition will be codified at 11 CFR 100.57.

The proposed regulation outlines two types of “valuable information”: “foreign information” and “compromising information.”

  • Foreign information” would include any information that comes from a source that is prohibited from making contributions under the Federal Elections Campaign Act.
  • Compromising information” would include information that could be used to blackmail or otherwise compromise any candidate for Federal office (including indirect coercion, such as of a candidate’s family), regardless of the source.

If any campaign official was offered or received either of types of information, the regulation mandates that they report this contact to the FEC within three days. Upon learning of a campaign receiving such information, the regulation requires the FEC to initiate investigations, provide a report to the FBI, and, in the case of “compromising information,” provide a report to every reasonably identifiable person against whom such information could be used. Once the FEC has learned of this information, the regulation requires the agency to provide a report to any other law enforcement entity with likely jurisdiction over the matter. Fourteen days later, the FEC must also publish a report on the matter.

Ellen L. Weintraub, the chair of the FEC, signed a notice about the potential new restrictions, further emphasizing the importance of curbing foreign interference in elections. Previously, on June 13, 2019, Weintraub published a statement regarding illegal contributions from foreign governments. “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” she reiterated. “Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Currently, the FEC is seeking public comment on this proposed rule. This comment period ends on September 30, 2019. After this phase, the rule will be voted on by the FEC commissioners. In accordance with FEC agency policy, four votes are needed for any official action to proceed. Considering the agency currently has four confirmed commissioners out of six possible, this rule would need a unanimous vote in order to become law.

This administrative action echoes similar efforts in the House and Senate to pass increased election security protections in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Federal Judge Orders Georgia Election Officials to Upgrade Voting System Before 2020

On Thursday, August 15th, Federal District Court Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the state of Georgia to upgrade its election systems before the state holds its presidential primary election in March of 2020. The 151-page ruling describes Georgia’s election system as “antiquated, seriously flawed, and vulnerable to failure, breach, contamination, and attack.” Although she has previously ordered Georgia to upgrade its election systems, Thursday’s order marks the first time Judge Totenberg has set a specific deadline that Georgia officials must meet.

Georgia is one of a handful of states that relies exclusively on electronic voting systems that do not provide a paper record. Election security experts have roundly criticized such systems, noting that they are vulnerable to hackers and susceptible to logistical problems. Indeed, election security experts have identified a number of significant security breaches that occurred during the 2018 election.

Due to these concerns and previous orders from Judge Totenberg, Georgia had announced plans to upgrade its voting systems prior to Thursday’s ruling. In July, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger publicly announced that the state would purchase new electronic voting machines from Dominion Voting Systems. The machines will print out a paper ballot and a QR code that  both voters and election officials can use to verify vote tallies. The Associated Press notes that while Judge Totenberg has praised the new machines as “an essential step forward out of the quagmire, even if just to terminate use of antiquated voting  system,” plaintiffs remain skeptical of the new machines, specifically questioning the extent to which voters will be allowed to verify their selections rather than relying on a printed QR code. Because of these concerns, plaintiffs have publicly announced their intention to bring separate litigation over the newly proposed machines.

Judge Totenberg’s ruling was prompted by a motion from plaintiff voters and election security advocates asking the court to force Georgia officials to use paper ballots during upcoming 2019 municipal elections. Citing logistical concerns, Judge Totenberg held that the state would not have enough time to implement a paper ballot system in time. However, she notes that use of the current system “past this 2019 cycle of elections is indefensible given the operational and constitutional issues at stake.”

The ultimate effect of Thursday’s ruling is to prevent Georgia from reverting to current election systems if newly proposed voting machines are not rolled out in time for 2020 elections. As a result, Georgia will have to resort to a paper balloting system in 2020 if new systems are not in place. In preparation for this contingency,  Judge Totenberg’s order requires the Secretary of State to “address errors and discrepancies in the voter registration database” and test the use of a paper balloting system in a handful of jurisdictions during the state’s upcoming municipal elections.

Summary of Senate Intelligence Committee Report: “Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure”

On July 25, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published Volume I of a report on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference.  The report stems from the committee’s bipartisan investigation into a wide range of Russian activities relating to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Volume I reaffirmed the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA)  that  Russian intelligence accessed elements of multiple state or local electoral boards prior to the 2016 presidential election. According to the Report, DHS concluded that the Russian government likely researched the electoral system in place in all 50 states. In fact, by September 2017, DHS concluded that 21 states were explicitly targeted by Russian government cyber actors.

The Committee determined that “scanning” of election-related state infrastructure was the most widespread activity conducted by the Russian government prior to the election. Scanning is a form of reconnaissance where an adversary searches for weaknesses, access points, and vulnerabilities. Dr. Samuel Liles, Acting Director of Cyber Division for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, characterized these activities as “analogous to somebody walking down the street and looking to see if you are home. A small number of systems were unsuccessfully exploited, as though somebody had rattled the doorknob but was unable to get in . . . [however] a small number of the networks were successfully exploited. They made it through the door."

It should be noted that the Report provides no evidence that votes were changed, vote tallying systems were manipulated, or that any voter registration data was altered or deleted during the 2016 election cycle. Despite this, there is reason to believe that Russia will continue to escalate its interference in future elections. When testifying before the Committee, Michael Daniel, former Assistant and Cybersecurity Coordinator for President Obama, warned that mapping is done “so that [Russia] could actually understand the network [and] establish a presence so [they] could come back later and actually execute an operation.” Moreover, in an addendum providing the additional views of Senators Harris (D-CA), Bennet (D-CO), and Heinrich (D-NM), the Report states that “Russian operatives undoubtedly gained familiarity with our election systems and voter registration infrastructure—valuable intelligence that it may seek to exploit in the future.”

At the end of the Report, the Committee provided a comprehensive list of recommendations aimed at preventing Russia from interfering in future elections.

1.  Reinforce States' Primacy in Running Elections

The Committee recommends reinforcing the role of each state in administering elections while the federal government should ensure they receive the necessary resources and information. This recommendation received pushback from Senator Wyden (D-OR) who calls for mandatory, nation-wide cybersecurity requirements. Wyden argues that Congress's constitutional role in regulating federal elections is well-established and that the Russian attacks are too complex and too serious to be left solely to state and local officials. Wyden went so far as to say that “[w]e would not ask a local sheriff to go to war against the missiles, planes and tanks of the Russian Army. We shouldn't ask a county election IT employee to fight a war against the full capabilities and vast resources of Russia's cyber army.”

2.  Create Effective Deterrence

The Committee recommends that the U.S. establish an international cyber doctrine to limit certain cyber activity. This doctrine would be similar to the existing international norms and treaties about the use of technologies and weapons systems. The government should treat a violation of this doctrine would be viewed as a hostile act and will be responded to appropriately. The Committee made it clear that the U.S. “should not limit its response to cyber activity; rather, it should create a menu of potential responses that will send a clear message and create significant costs for the perpetrator.”

3.  Improve Information Gathering and Sharing on Threats

The Committee recommends that the federal government, state governments, and local governments should establish clear channels of communication between one another. While this may seem rather rudimentary on its face, one of the key components of information sharing about elections is security clearances for appropriate officials at the state and local level. Since the 2016 election, DHS has compiled a list of officials to contact in every state if there is a threat. In addition, DHS is seeking to obtain security clearances for up to three election officials per state. Lastly, federal officials are working to declassify information in order to provide the greatest possible warning to state and local officials without compromising our own national intelligence.

4.  Secure Election-Related Cyber Systems

Despite the expense, the Committee recommends that cybersecurity needs to become a higher priority for election-related infrastructure. To do this, election officials should work with DHS to evaluate the security of their election systems, voter registration systems, state records, and other pre-election activities. The Report stated that in 2016, “cybersecurity for electoral infrastructure at the state and local level was sorely lacking.” The Committee additionally recommends that DHS creates an advisory panel to give expert-level advice on how states and localities run elections. Using this advice, DHS should develop procedures and processes to evaluate and routinely provide guidance on relevant vulnerabilities associated with voting systems.

5.  Take Steps to Secure the Vote Itself

The Committee recommends that states act with urgency to replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems. At a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail and remove (or render inert) any wireless networking capability. This is because paper ballots and optical scanners are the least vulnerable to cyber-attack. However, in order for paper ballots to be a legitimate means of tallying votes, there must be a secure chain of custody for those ballots. For this reason, the Committee recommends that states reexamine their safeguards against insertion of fraudulent paper ballots at the local level. Lastly, the Committee recommended that vendors of election equipment be briefed about the vulnerabilities in both the machines and the supply chains for the components of their machines.

6.  Assistance for the States

Finally, the Committee outlined its assessment of how the federal government can assist state and local governments in ensuring free and fair elections. State officials told the Committee the main obstacle to improving cybersecurity and purchasing more secure voting machines is cost. In March 2018, Congress appropriated $280 million in grants aimed at improving election security. Among other things, these funds will go toward replacing voting machines, hiring additional IT staff, updating software, and contracting with vendors to provide cybersecurity services. The Committee recommends that the Election Assistance Commission—the entity responsible for administering the grants—regularly report to Congress on how the states are using those funds, whether more funds are needed, and whether states have both replaced outdated voting equipment and improved cybersecurity.

Above all, this Report serves as a reminder that since 2014, Russia has been exploiting weaknesses in the American electoral system in order to sow discord and distrust among the American public. As former Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, told the Committee, the Russians “might not be effective the first time or the fifth time, but they are going to keep at it until they can come back and do it in an effective way." The committee plans to release several more installments of its report in the fall, focusing on the "Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) of Russian interference, the Obama Administration’s response to Russian interference, the role of social media disinformation campaigns, and remaining counterintelligence questions."

Netflix documentary The Great Hack chronicles how Cambridge Analytica exploited 87 million Facebook users' profiles to help Trump campaign

The Netflix documentary "The Great Hack" was just released. It chronicles how Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct UK firm, exploited the profile information of 87 million Facebook users it obtained via people's answers to a third party's questionnaire on Facebook--all without the users' knowledge or express consent. Armed with profile information or what it called 5,000 data points, Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump campaign target people they identified as "persuadables" in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida, broken down by precinct. According to former employee Brittany Kaiser (who became a whistleblower), Cambridge Analytica then created personalized content to trigger those individuals to vote Trump: "We bombarded them through blogs, websites, articles, videos, ads, every platform you can imagine. Until they saw the world the way we wanted them to."

The documentary raises alarming questions about what amounts to digital information warfare conducted by a private firm using big data (scraped from Facebook profiles without proper authorization), personal profiling, and psychographic messaging, to influence national elections.  Although Cambridge Analytica went bankrupt, what's to stop other firms from doing the same?  Should laws be enacted to regulate what such data firms can do (such as how they can use personal information)?  What responsibilities do Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, and other tech companies have in protecting personal information and in preventing such data firms and other entities from targeting their users with fake news and psychographic messaging intended to influence their vote?  

Time to Revisit Electronic Paperless Voting: State election systems lacking paper ballots are most vulnerable to hacking

Sample direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine

Following the infamous hanging-chad fiasco in Florida during the 2000 U.S. presidential election, the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 aimed to modernize election systems in the United States, in part by encouraging states to transition from paper ballots to electronic voting systems. That 2000 reform, however, may have led to the unintended consequence of making U.S. elections more vulnerable to hacking. Amid reports of cyberattacks against voting systems in Florida, Georgia, and other states in the recent 2018 election, officials are questioning the efficacy of machine-based or electronic voting that lacks a paper trail. Many experts have called for a return to paper ballots or at least paper-records that can be used to audit machine-voting tallies.  As election security expert and Georgetown Law Center Professor Matt Blaze said, "'It's ironic that the famous picture of an election official examining a paper ballot during the Florida recount' was used to illustrate the primitivism of punch-card voting machines, but now is used to demonstrate the robustness of paper ballots." 

Paperless voting systems continue to be popular, however.  During the 2018 election cycle, most states relied on Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems, which store votes directly into a computer’s memory. The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that DRE systems can be equipped to provide a “voter-verifiable paper audit trail” (VVPAT) that serves two functions. First, VVPAT capabilities allow voters to verify that their ballots are recorded correctly. Second, VVPAT systems provide a paper trail for election officials should an audit become necessary. Nonetheless, ABC reported that 5 states (Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware) used versions of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems that leave no paper record of individual votes. Additionally, ABC notes that 8 states, including Pennsylvania, use DRE systems without a paper trail in at least one, but not all, counties.

Experts are increasingly critical of paperless DRE systems. A 2018 report "Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy" by the National Academy of Science calls for such systems to be “removed from service as soon as possible.” The Brennan Center argues that $380 million in federal funding recently authorized for election modernization is nowhere near enough to address the potential scope of interference in the 2020 election. Specifically, experts warn that paperless DRE systems tend to be older systems, most vulnerable to hacking. A New Yorker piece illustrates the grave risk, recounting a 2018 hacking conference in which hackers were able to infiltrate each of 24 voting machines on display, “some within minutes." Nonetheless, some state officials insist that paperless DRE systems are safe. For example, Delaware Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove told ABC news that DRE machines are not connected to the internet and are not connected to other machines. Thus, hackers would have to penetrate each individual machine to change vote tallies.

State responses have been mixed. The Brennan Center surveyed election officials in jurisdictions that use paperless DRE systems and received a wide variety of responses. Six states have taken direct action to replace all paperless machines with DRE systems equipped with VVPAT systems. These include the 5 states entirely reliant on paperless DRE systems and Pennsylvania. Other jurisdictions have taken a more measured response. Kentucky election officials, for example, have called for the replacement of paperless DRE systems but have yet to secure the funding to do so. Kansas has prohibited counties from purchasing new paperless DRE systems, but has not banned the use of existing paperless machines. Still other jurisdictions have taken no apparent action to replace paperless machines, including Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. In fact, one municipal election official in Texas reported to the Brennan Center that he hoped to replace existing paperless machines with a new set of paperless machines.

Jurisdictions that are taking action to replace paperless DRE systems are turning to a number of different alternatives. The Brennan Center report estimates that 55% of counties that intend to replace paperless DRE systems hope to purchase optical scanning machines, which rely on computers to scan and tally paper ballots. While optical scanning systems are still vulnerable to hacking of final tallies, they allow officials to retain paper ballots for auditing purposes. An additional 13% of counties intend to purchase DRE systems that are equipped with VVPAT technology, allowing officials to collect a paper trail of each individual vote. 6% of counties report plans to purchase ballot marking devices, which require voters to input their choices on a computer that in turn marks a paper ballot rather than storing votes to internal memory. The remaining 26% of counties have not specified an alternative voting system they intend to purchase.

The decentralized nature of American elections is often touted as an asset. Because elections are typically administered at the county level, hackers have to effectively infiltrate thousands of individual election systems rather than one centralized system. Given both the vulnerability of dated DRE systems and the demonstrated commitment of foreign actors to influence American elections, many believe that a federal mandate to collect paper records of individual votes could help strengthen the American electoral system.

New study by Alto Data Analytics casts doubt on effectiveness of fact checking to combat published fake news

As “fake news” continues to plague digital socio-political space, a new form of investigative reporter has risen to combat this disinformation: the fact-checker. Generally, fact-checkers are defined as journalists working to verify digital content by performing additional research on the content’s claim. Whenever a fact-checker uncovers a falsity masquerading as fact (aka fake news), they rebut this deceptive representation through articles, blog posts, and other explanatory comments that illustrate how the statement misleads the public. [More from Reuters] As of 2019, the number of fact-checking outlets across the globe has grown to 188 across 60 countries, according to the Reporters Lab.  

But recent research reveals that this upsurge in fact-checkers may not have that great an impact on defeating digital disinformation. From December 2018 to the European Parliamentary elections in May 2019, big-data firm Alto Data Analytics collected socio-political debate data from across a variety of digital media platforms. This survey served as one of the first studies assessing the success of fact-checking efforts.  Alto’s study examined five European countries: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain. Focusing on verified fact-checkers in each of these countries, Alto’s Alto Analyzer cloud-based software tracked how users interacted with these trustworthy entities in digital space. Basing their experiment exclusively on Twitter interactions, the Analyzer platform recorded how users interacted with the fact-checkers’ tweets through re-tweets, replies, and mentions. After noting this information, the data-scientists calculated the fact-checkers’ effectiveness in reaching communities most affected by disinformation.

Despite its limitation to 5 select countries, the study yielded discouraging results. In total, the fact-checking outlets in these countries only amounted to between 0.1% and 0.3% of total number of Twitter activity during the period.  Across the five countries in the study, fact-checkers penetrated least successfully in Germany, followed closely by Italy. Conversely, fact-checkers experienced the greatest distributive effect in France. Fact-checkers’ digital presence tended to reach only a few online communities.  The study found that “fact-checkers . . . [were] unable to significantly penetrate the communities which tend to be exposed most frequently to disinformation content.”  In other words, fact-checking efforts reached few individuals, and the ones they did reach were other fact-checkers.  Alto Data notes, however, that their analysis “doesn’t show that the fact-checkers are not effective in the broader socio-political conversation.” But “the reach of fact-checkers is limited, often to those digital communities which are not targets for or are propagating disinformation.”  [Alto Data study]

Alto proposed ideas for future research models on this topic: expanding the study beyond one social media site; conducting research to find effectual discrepancies between various types of digital content—memes, videos, picture, and articles; taking search engine comparisons into account; and providing causal explanations for penetration differences between countries.

Research studies in the United States have also produced results doubting the effectiveness of fact-checkers. A Tulane University study discovered that citizens were more likely to alter their views from reading ideologically consistent media outlets than neutral fact-checking entities. Some studies even suggest that encounters with corrective fact-checking pieces have undesired psychological effects on content consumers, hardening individuals’ partisan positions and perceptions instead of dispelling them. 

These studies suggest that it's incredibly difficult to "unring the bell" of fake news, so to speak.  That is why the proactive efforts of social media companies and online sites to minimize the spread of blatantly fake news related to elections may be the only hope of minimizing its deleterious effects on voters.  

Summary of proposed Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2019 (PAVE Act) and Bots Research Act

 

Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2019 (PAVE Act)

Washington, D.C. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and 14 Senate co-sponsors introduced the PAVE Act requiring paper ballots and statistically rigorous “risk-limiting” audits for all federal elections.  In introducing the bill, Wyden said, “The PAVE Act scraps insecure voting machines that are juicy targets for hackers and replaces them with reliable, secure hand-marked paper ballots. It gives states the funding they need to defend their election systems and puts the Department of Homeland Security in charge of setting strong security standards for every federal election.” This bill updates aging election infrastructure.” Senator Gillibrand “Congress has a responsibility to secure the integrity of our elections, and I am proud to join with Senator Wyden to introduce this bill that strengthens our country’s election infrastructure.” 

The press release described the key provisions of the PAVE Act: 

  • "The new PAVE Act bans internet, WiFi and cellular connections for voting machines, and gives the Department of Homeland Security the authority to set, for the first time, minimum cybersecurity standards for voting machines, voter registration databases, electronic poll books used to 'check in' voters at polling places and election night reporting websites."
  • "The bill also provides state and local governments with $500 million dollars to buy new, secure ballot scanning machines, and $250 million to buy new ballot marking devices to be used by voters with disabilities. It also permits the federal government to reimburse states the cost of conducting post-elections audits, as well as the cost of designing and printing ballots."

Bots Research Act (H.R. 2860)

On May 22, 2019, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) announced the Bots Research Act (H.R. 2860).  According to the press release, this bill would "establish a task force of experts at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine the impact of automated social media accounts" on elections and public disclosure and to figure out "how to most effectively combat any use of automated accounts that negatively effects social media, public discourse, and elections while continuing to promote the protection of the First Amendment on the internet."  DeSaulnier said, “We now know that bot accounts were actively used by foreign agents as part of what the Mueller Report characterized as ‘sweeping and systematic’ interference in the 2016 presidential election. The accounts spread false information and manipulate public opinion and threaten free elections and the democratic process."

Pages

Blog Search

Blog Archive

Categories