Speakers at an election security symposium this month reiterated a message that’s been shared across the country: Stay informed and steer clear election misinformation and disinformation.
And ahead of the 2020 primary and general election — amid concerns that foreign influencers will repeat their work from 2016 and again try to sow discord — law enforcement, cybersecurity, election and social media experts say it's especially critical that voters and candidates alike to heed their advice.
“They are trying to rip apart America at the seams,” FBI Special Agent Matt Yeager told guests at the conference. “Race, religion, politics — they are trying to exploit that to get us to hate each other.”
The deceptive tactics can range from economic coercion, bribery, blackmail and cyberattacks — to the covert placement of articles in the media and social media.
Like with money-laundering, there’s a system of information-laundering that leverages social media to divide Americans, said Samantha Korta, a cyber security advisor for Deloitte’s Risk and Financial Advisory.
“There’s an internet ecosystem that allows someone to take bad information, put it into the ecosystem, launder it around and it comes out as public discourse,” said Korta.
“It’s really interesting to think that you don’t have to physically hack an election, you just have to convince people that you have.”
Oregon’s paper ballot system offers inherent security — bolstered by ballot-counting systems that are never connected to the internet.
A paper trail leads back to each and every voter.
Election results are also verified by tallying results of randomly chosen ballots and the use of rigorous statistical tests.
A large contingent of public and private-sector teams are dedicated to elections and cybersecurity in Oregon.
Confidence in Oregon’s vote-by-mail system is high.
No matter what bad information someone with nefarious intentions plants online or elsewhere, Bill Burgess, president of the Oregon Association of County Clerks said, “We are going to get the right count” — so that 20 days after the election, when certification occurs, “we are sure.”
Still, voters need to take steps to protect themselves against deceptive tactics — and go to official sources for information.
“On Facebook, every single piece of content can be reported,” said Eva Guidarini, Facebook’s U.S. government and politics outreach manager.
Facebook deleted some 45,000 posts providing inaccurate information about elections during the 2018 midterm elections. More than 90 percent was detected proactively, said Guidarini.
A 24-hour Facebook election reporting channel serves as a resource for election officials. Third-party fact checkers also work to flag potential misinformation and rate and review it for accuracy.
“If you share information that a third-party fact checker has rated as false,” said Guidarini, “we will send you a notification that it was rated as false and ask if you want to delete it.”
Vigilant voters are still the best defense against suspicious information. Avoid suspicious links, and use password managers and fact checkers.
Some tools even allow you to track misinformation and the automated bots that are attached to them, such as OSoMe, or the Observatory on Social Media.
Above all, go to the trusted sources for official election information.
“Every one of us individually as informed voters are the best defense,” said Oregon Secretary of State Beverly Clarno. “Make sure you have strong passwords, be careful which links you click on, and don’t be fooled by misinformation and don’t spread it.”