How Prepared Is the U.S. to Deal With Disinformation in the 2020 Election?

How Prepared Is the U.S. to Deal With Disinformation in the 2020 Election?
The Capitol building at sunset in Washington, Jan. 24, 2019 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

Election Day is more than a year away, but foreign interference is already a daily headline, amid the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Many observers see Trump’s actions as an abuse of power and a blatant request for foreign election interference.

But as this all plays out in Washington, undeterred foreign actors are planning more of their own disinformation campaigns on social media ahead of November 2020, again looking to divide the American electorate and undermine trust in the electoral process. From social media to government funding for election security, how prepared—or unprepared—is the United States?

Last week, Facebook announced that it had removed “four separate networks of accounts” linked to coordinated inauthentic behavior—in other words, online influence operations. Three out of four networks originated in Iran, and one out of four originated in Russia, with some links to the Internet Research Agency, the notorious “troll farm” based out of St. Petersburg that used a combination of fake and hijacked social media accounts to wage “information warfare against the United States” in the 2016 elections, according to the U.S. government. Ben Nimmo of Graphika, a research firm that analyzes social media and disinformation, has noted that 19 of those 40 accounts removed by Facebook were located in swing states. Other disinformation activities are undoubtedly underway online, including by Russian actors.

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