Online foreign interference, coordinated influence operations, and disinformation have become the new normal for elections and other democratic processes. These problems overlay a difficult, dynamic, and ever changing political environment rife with contentious issues for threat actors to exploit as they aim to degrade democracy. This problem, which we can expect to persist into the future and impact elections around the world for years to come, requires an unprecedented response by a range of stakeholders, as we work to uphold a key democratic foundation: elections.
The upcoming November 2020 election includes many different potential vectors of attack. Normal electoral processes could extend out several weeks, as a record number of voters plan to vote by mail. This leaves time for threat actors to sow confusion about the legitimacy of the eventual election outcome. Longstanding security vulnerabilities in voting systems persist, as do foreign actors aiming to coordinate activities to influence public opinion.
The publication features four exercises tailored to four key election stakeholder groups: the U.S. intelligence community, media organizations, state and local election officials, and technology platforms. Each exercise consists of a hypothetical scenario followed by discussion questions for all four stakeholder groups, and additional resources.
This publication aims to encourage key election stakeholders to convene and test their responses to the same defined incident, with the goal of mitigating the impact of disinformation. The exercises touch on a number of cross-cutting themes, and call upon stakeholders to think through different challenges that affect the critical parts of an election: electoral systems, processes, infrastructure, public perceptions of the electoral system as a whole, and the peaceful transition of power. The exercises also prompt stakeholders to consider how to deal with an information emergency in real time, the timing and opportunity costs of particular interventions against disinformation, gaps in current response protocols, and how to foster close cross-sectoral collaboration and public resilience against disinformation.
Berkman Klein Center Staff Fellow Oumou Ly co-wrote the publication with Jorhena Thomas, Adjunct Professorial Lecturer at the American University’s School of International Service, building on discussions and research by the Center’s Assembly: Disinformation Program. The Assembly Program brings together participants from academia, industry, government, and civil society from across disciplines to explore disinformation in the digital public sphere.