WASHINGTON, DC, Nov 16 — Elections: a growing number of concerned Americans don’t trust them. There are those who suggest our international foes are to blame. But the reality is that “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us,” as a 1970 Earth Day poster declared.
The sad fact is that survey after survey shows that U.S. citizens are losing trust in our electoral process. One poll, conducted by SSRS researchers earlier this year for CNN, shows that only 16% of us are “very confident” and just 26% are “somewhat confident” in our election process but the vast majority — 58% — are “not at all” confident or “just a little” confident.
The Brookings Institution says it’s because “one of the drivers of decreased confidence in the political system has been the explosion of misinformation deliberately aimed at disrupting the democratic process. This confuses and overwhelms voters.” Driving “the explosion of misinformation” is the surge of fake news on social media — Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, etc.
The power of these computer-based services “hold the potential to alter civic engagement, thus essentially hijacking democracy, by influencing individuals toward a particular way of thinking.” That’s not me coming to that conclusion; it’s how the National Institutes of Health [NIH] sees it. “Perceived as an equalizing force for disenfranchised individuals without a voice, the importance of social networks as agents of change cannot be ignored. However, in some societies, social networks have evolved into a platform for fake news and propaganda, empowering disruptive voices, ideologies, and messages. Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google hold the potential to alter civic engagement, thus essentially hijacking democracy, by influencing individuals toward a particular way of thinking.”
A few days prior to last week’s midterm elections, the senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, Robert Epstein, cautioned that social media could have an important impact on the election outcomes. In an article, he penned for the Daily Caller, in his words, “Google and other [social media] companies are able to use to shift opinions and voting preferences, and we expect to have captured more than 2.5 million by Election Day…In several swing states, 92 percent of the auto-play videos being fed to YouTube users are coming from liberal news sources [YouTube is owned by Google]. Unless Google backs down, it will shift hundreds of thousands of votes.”
Samuel Woolley is the program director of the Propaganda Research Lab at the University of Texas. “It’s [disinformation] becoming endemic. It’s becoming something that we’re just accepting in our society. It’s becoming part of day-to-day life,” he told USA Today a few days before the midterm elections. The article focused on the use of misinformation and reporters Candy Woodall Ken Tran noted that “Sometimes the lies are designed to prevent people from voting by confusing them on how, when and where to vote. Sometimes the lies play on fears to try to make them vote a certain way.”
In addition to fomenting confusion and lying the bad guys are also instilling distrust of the process. Insikt Group, the threat research division of the intelligence company, Recorded Future, published a report prior to the November elections that focused on the use of misinformation to simply keep voters from casting their ballots. They gathered “substantial evidence of misinformation and disinformation targeting voting systems manufacturers (VSMs) across both mainstream and alternative internet platforms ahead of the 2022 US midterm elections. Disinformation involving voting technologies intends to instill doubt in electoral results and distrust of the US electoral system broadly.”