Let’s Make Every Vote Count

March 2020

Image: GettyImages

I’m going to wade into waters our company typically avoids: politics.

Today is Super Tuesday, which means qualified voters in 14 states will be casting ballots for their preferred candidates vying for U.S., state and local offices. There has been a lot of concern over election interference, which is why 80% of the nation will be using paper ballots despite advances made in electronic voting come November. That’s according to Christopher Krebs, the head of the cybersecurity unit of the Department of Homeland Security.

Krebs was asked about election security during a keynote last week at the RSA Conference  in San Francisco. He said paper ballots would be used where possible—including so-called “swing” states—because they remain safer than electronic voting and can be audited—which most likely will be needed should one or both presidential candidates contest results.

“Make no mistake, 2016 was a wake-up call,” Krebs told the RSA audience. He said Russia’s interference in the elections was less about getting a specific person elected and more about testing whether cyber could destabilize a democracy. Let that sink in for a moment.

Twirling Tiger Media specializes in writing, editing and creating imagery about technical issues, cybersecurity in particular. We closely follow threats and solutions so that the content we create for ourselves and our clients remains credible. We also need to guard that same content against dishonest use.

In recent years, entire nations—including the United States—have come under attack in an unconventional way: infiltration of online platforms with targeted digital ads and fake user accounts to influence voter behavior. The foreign powers widely believed to be behind these attacks now have an ally: domestic digital meddlers. In fact, a report last fall from the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights predicts our biggest threat to the 2020 elections will be insiders spreading falsehoods.

“In terms of sheer volume, domestically generated disinformation now exceeds malign content from foreign sources and will almost certainly be a factor in the next election,” writes author Paul M. Barrett. That NYU report also predicts:

More “deep fake” and “cheap fake” videos of candidates will surface, much like the one supposedly showing U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appearing drunk or disoriented at the podium. She wasn’t; someone slowed down the video speed to make it appear so. But the trick worked, and the video went viral. Even more worrisome is how convincing these fakes are becoming thanks to artificial intelligence. Here’s one of many primers on how to spot such videos.

Expect more phony calls for participation in protests and rallies designed to manipulate more than show strength in numbers. If you’ve watched The Great Hack documentary, then you may recall Cambridge Analytica allegedly did this to suppress votes in one national election. The company completely manufactured a social movement that allowed its client to win the day.

We’ll also see more disinformation distributed through Facebook properties Instagram and WhatsApp, because people are growing weary of the company’s flagship platform due to a series of scandals. Given this is where most consumers still are, and companies still want to be, things could get really ugly.

Social media companies need to do more to regain the reputations they’ve lost in the name of free speech and self-regulation. They need to rebuild their brands and be seen as a trusted source for accurate information. But it’s a tough battle because they are playing catch-up in a race where bad actors are always one step ahead. Soon as one channel is shut down, these disinformation-makers will find another to get us to spread phony memes and fall for deceptive calls to action. Legitimate news organizations, meanwhile, need to use more than tweets and posts to source articles and news segments.

That’s why each of us must become more media literate.

We need to better educate ourselves on how to spot fakes and stop supporting outlets that repeatedly promote them. We need better legislation like the proposed Honest Ads Act that would treat digital political ads the same as those for print and broadcast requiring full disclosure. We need to do better because we deserve better, no matter which candidates or causes we support.

Thank you for reading this,