How Disinformation Could Sway The 2020 Election

democracy What people read online could really disrupt society and politics. igorstevanovic/Shutterstock.com

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.

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.”

 

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.’”

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.

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.

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.

About The Author

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

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

books_democracy

 

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

POLITICS

A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
image
Climate explained: how the IPCC reaches scientific consensus on climate change
by Rebecca Harris, Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania
When we say there’s a scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing climate change, what does…
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
by Joshua Axelrod
In a disappointing decision, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled…
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
by Mitchell Bernard
At Biden’s urging, his G7 counterparts raised the bar on collective climate action, pledging to cut their carbon…
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
by Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Director of Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford
The four-day G7 summit in Cornwall ended with little cause for celebration from anyone worried about climate change.…
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
by Steve Westlake, PhD Candidate, Environmental Leadership, Cardiff University
When UK prime minister Boris Johnson took a one-hour flight to Cornwall for the G7 summit, he was criticised for being…
Nuclear industry’s propaganda war rages on
by Paul Brown
With renewable energy expanding fast, the nuclear industry’s propaganda war still claims it helps to combat climate…
Shell ordered to cut its emissions – why this ruling could affect almost any major company in the world
Shell ordered to cut its emissions – why this ruling could affect almost any major company in the world
by Arthur Petersen, Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy, UCL
The Hague is the seat of government of the Netherlands and also hosts the International Criminal Court. NAPA /…

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
A brown weasel with a white belly leans on a rock and looks over its shoulder
Once common weasels are doing a vanishing act
by Laura Oleniacz - NC State
Three species of weasels, once common in North America, are likely in decline, including a species that’s considered…
Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies
by Tim Radford
A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.