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A lot of things went wrong after the 2020 US election. But here’s something that happened during that time: One risk everyone was worried about – foreign election interference – has mostly failed.
That shows what can happen when government officials and tech companies focus on one problem, coordinate effectively and learn from their past mistakes.
But the misleading account that the election was stolen, culminating in a mob attack on the US Capitol, also points to the limits of those efforts. The Russians or Chinese did not authorize our election. We did it to ourselves.
Today, I want to explore the purely glass view. The threat largely prevented from foreign electoral meddling is a success that cannot be ignored.
What happened last time
Let me first reiterate what happened around the 2016 election. Russian hackers stole documents from the Democratic National Committee and tried to find a way into the electoral infrastructure. state. Russian government-backed digital propagandists have also launched information on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and elsewhere seeking to undermine people’s confidence in voting or incite social divisions. .
Strong American organizations – especially local, state, and federal government officials as well as major internet companies – have been slow to address the problem or initially dismissed it. The effects of hacking and trolling are not clear, but it is worrying that foreign governments will frequently seek to disrupt US elections and that will contribute to America’s lack of trust. our system and together.
What happened in 2020
Several foreign governments, including Russia and Iran, tried to interrupt our elections again, but with little effect. The same digital institutions and defenses of the United States that failed four years earlier are still largely strong at this point.
“The progress made between 2016 and 2020 is remarkable,” said Camille François, innovation director at Graphika, a company that analyzes social manipulation.
What has changed in government and technology
One big change after 2016 was that federal government officials and state and local officials who ran the election overcame initial suspicion to cooperate more effectively in resolving concerns. threatens to vote. Matt Masterson, who was until recently a senior adviser on electoral security to the Department of Homeland Security, said that coordination is the biggest change that will help strengthen digital defenses in governance systems. election reason.
“This is also good because the federal government has worked on any issue in my experience,” says Masterson.
He also noted that efforts in states, especially Georgia, have created paper trails that can be checked quickly and provide a clearer visibility in the counting of votes to help increase confidence. of the people into the electoral process.
Tech companies have turned to admitting their blind spots, François said. For the first time, online powers including Facebook have written special policies to deal with foreign government interference and put those responsible for stopping it. They also made it difficult for foreign bad actors to use some of their 2016 tactics, such as buying online ads to spread divisive messages.
Social media companies also began to go public when they found foreign government campaigns used to deceive people online. François says that has helped researchers and journalists better evaluate the techniques of foreign propagandists – and that shared knowledge helped internet companies stop troll campaigns before they have a big impact.
Cooperation between the government and technology companies has also improved. There are regular meetings between major internet companies and federal officials responsible for defending elections to share information. And internet companies started telling the public when the US government told them about foreign interference in their websites.
Both François and Masterson say the “aha” moment was a reaction to Iran’s attempt to intimidate voters in the fall. National security officials later said Iran had obtained some American voter registration data, most of which were publicly available, to send deceptive messages threatening voters.
Because they are ready for threats like these, officials can make links between intimidating voters in many states, identifying the source of threatening messages, informing officials. hold your election nationwide and let your voters know what’s going on – all in about a day.
“That couldn’t have happened in 2016, and it’s likely unlikely in 2018.” That’s what we’ve trained for all, “Masterson said.
While internet companies and the US government caught up to the types of interventions they faced in 2016, they failed to face the even more complex challenge of a presidential campaign. leads to suspicion of the electoral process, although there is no substantial evidence. And cyberattacks and foreign online propaganda efforts have certainly not stopped.
But it could be much worse. A lot of things went in the right direction in the election because powerful organizations have seriously taken the risk of foreign hacking and deception and faced the challenge. It is a hopeful lesson for future elections, pandemic and other crises.
Before we go …
It’s a strange time to get rich: My colleague, Erin Griffith, writes that a booming market for tech stocks and IPOs poses a conundrum for wealthy new technologists. Buying a Ferrari in the midst of a pandemic can be tricky and pointless, so they pay Snoop Dogg instead to lead cooking classes on Zoom or load up luxury vans for journeys on the road.
How online shopping affects these smaller businesses: Amy Haimerl spoke to the owner of a Michigan grocery store, a fitness studio and other small businesses about moving their operations to online stores during the pandemic. For some of them, e-commerce has kept them afloat, but for others it’s more complicated than helping.
Children spend more time online than they are… complicated: Device time “as a concept for meticulous monitoring, anxiety and panic, to measure parental worth – is no longer considered a valid framework in a pandemic world,” said a Washington Post pen.
A duck train solid through a slit in semi-frozen water.
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