With about a month left before November’s election, the U.S. remains vulnerable. Misinformation campaigns perpetrated by foreign actors abound. Russia, China, and Iran have all shown their ability to manipulate information and sow discord, often by spreading false information on social media.
But it’s not just outsiders stirring the pot. Domestic actors have also been working to undermine the election. Hate groups and users with extreme political views have used Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram to create division and spread false information. In fact, Facebook recently announced that it would restrict new political advertisements one week before the election to combat any misinformation that could originate and propagate on the social network.
Beyond all of that, the lack of unified federal standards regulating and protecting U.S. election security poses serious risks. The diversity of the country’s elections, composed of state and local cyber ecosystems, makes it incredibly difficult for federal agencies to provide resources and support to these localities, all of which have unique issues and needs.
The Need for Change Explained
That said, why should election officials contend with misinformation campaigns now to secure elections and the integrity of their results?
One of the main reasons is that election misinformation directly aims to reduce voter turnout. In particular, marginalized populations are targeted with false or partially true information about how, where, or when to vote — and even when or how to register to vote at all. Does this work? Unfortunately, yes. Most voters never interact with their local election offices and don’t realize that those offices are the best source of accurate voting information.
Election officials are concerned that misinformation will keep people from voting and threaten the credibility of the election if people vote with false information. One of the most severe misinformation targets has been the conversation about mail-in voting in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. States across the country are racing to find ways for voters to vote from home safely, and the confusing mixed messages surrounding mail-in voting have made voters question whether the election and their votes will be safe at all.
This could have significant ramifications. If there are concerns about the validity of the 2020 presidential election, and voters don’t turn out because of election misinformation, there could be political chaos. And in the long-term, regular and damaging misinformation breeds distrust in democratic institutions. Elections are one of the most fundamental parts of a democratic society. If people can’t trust their votes to be counted and information to be accurate, it hurts institutions and society as a whole.
How Secure the Vote is Working to Create Change
At Secure the Vote, we are actively working to ensure these misinformation campaigns don’t achieve their goals. We take the job of ensuring U.S. election security and combating voter misinformation seriously. As a result, we’re working with several partners to develop tools for election officials and public information officers to use to detect and combat misinformation.
We’re also supporting and developing training for the general public to learn how to identify election misinformation. The more people are armed with knowledge and the ability to detect misinformation when they see it, the less effective it becomes.
In all of this, our mission is to preserve and strengthen the fabric of trust in our democratic republic. To learn more about what we’re doing, click here.