What Went Right in the 2020 Election

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Loads went improper after the 2020 election in the United States. But right here’s one factor that went proper throughout it: A danger everybody fearful about — international election interference — principally failed.

That confirmed what is feasible when authorities officers and expertise corporations are laser centered on an issue, successfully coordinate and study from their previous errors.

But the false narrative that the election was stolen, culminating in a mob assault on the U.S. Capitol, additionally pointed to the limits of these efforts. The Russians or the Chinese didn’t delegitimize our election. We did it to ourselves.

Today, I wish to discover the glass half-full view. The largely averted menace of international election meddling was a hit that shouldn’t be missed.

What went improper the final time

Let me first remind you what occurred round the 2016 election. Russian hackers pilfered documents from the Democratic National Committee and tried to muck around with state election infrastructure. Digital propagandists backed by the Russian government also fanned information on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and elsewhere that sought to erode people’s faith in voting or inflame social divisions.

Powerful American institutions — notably local, state and federal government officials as well as large internet companies — were slow to tackle the problem or had initially dismissed it. The effect of the hacking and trolling wasn’t clear, but the worry was that foreign governments would regularly seek to disrupt U.S. elections and that it would contribute to Americans’ lack of trust in our systems and with one another.

What happened in 2020

Some foreign governments, including Russia and Iran, tried to disrupt our elections again, but it mostly didn’t work. The same U.S. institutions and digital defenses that failed four years earlier largely held strong this time.

“The progress that was made between 2016 and 2020 was remarkable,” said Camille François, chief innovation officer at Graphika, a firm that analyzes manipulation of social networks.

What changed in government and tech

One major shift after 2016 was that federal government officials and the state and local officials who run elections overcame initial mistrust to collaborate more effectively on voting threats. Matt Masterson, who until recently was a senior adviser on election security for the Department of Homeland Security, said coordination was the biggest change that helped shore up digital defenses in election management systems.

“This is as good as the federal government has worked on any issue in my experience,” Masterson said.

He also credited efforts in states, notably Georgia, that created paper trails of ballots that could be audited quickly and provide more visibility into the vote counting to help increase people’s trust in the election process.

The tech companies, François said, shifted to acknowledge their blind spots. For the first time, online powers including Facebook wrote policies specifically tackling foreign government meddling and put people in charge of stopping it. They also made it harder for foreign trolls to use some of their 2016 tactics, such as buying online advertisements to circulate divisive messages widely.

Social media companies also started to publicly announce when they found campaigns by foreign governments that were used to mislead people online. François said that helped researchers and journalists better assess the techniques of foreign propagandists — and the shared knowledge helped internet companies stop trolling campaigns before they had a big impact.

Cooperation improved between government and tech companies, too. There were regular meetings between major internet companies and the federal officials responsible for election protection to share information. And internet companies began to tell the public when the U.S. government tipped them off about foreign interference on their websites.

Both François and Masterson said that an “aha” moment was the response to Iran’s effort to intimidate voters during the fall. National security officials said then that Iran had obtained some Americans’ voter-registration data, most of which was publicly available, to send deceptive messages that threatened voters.

Because they were ready for threats like this, officials were able to make connections between voter intimidation in multiple states, identify the source of the menacing messages, inform election officials across the country and tell voters what was happening — all in about a day.

Source link Nytimes.com

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