Category Archives: Domestic politics and elections

Media manipulation

Earlier, I attended an online workshop organized by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Technology and Social Change Project on media manipulation in the context of the 2020 US presidential campaign. Very productive conversation on the tailoring of disinformation memes to the various minority communities. I also learned about the Taiwanese “humor over rumor” strategy…

Authoritativeness of intelligence briefings

Good article about the politicization of the US Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence briefings with regard to alleged Russian disinformation activities during the presidential campaign. Beyond the merits of the specific case, it is interesting that within the federal system a chief purpose of DHS’s intelligence gathering is to provide broader context for local law enforcement; however, given the competitive nature of the US intelligence ecosystem, perceived politicization of one agency leads to a loss in authoritativeness compared to other parts of the intelligence community. This would be a self-correcting mechanism. If, on the other hand, such briefings were not primarily intended as a guide for action but as an instrument for the steering of public debate, a sort of public diplomacy, their perceived internal authoritativeness would not matter so much: they would still provide official cover for decisions taken along sympathetic ideological lines. One single tool cannot fulfil both these tasks well, and shifts in public perception are extremely hard to reverse.

Panel on election disruption

Yesterday I attended an online panel organized by the Atlantic Council with government (Matt Masterson of CISA), think-tank (Alicia Wanless of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Clara Tsao of the AC’s DFRLab) and industry figures (Nathaniel Gleicher of FB and Yoel Roth of Twitter) on steps being taken to guarantee the integrity of the electoral process in the US this Fall. The general sense was that the current ecosystem is much less vulnerable to disinformation than the last presidential cycle, four years ago, and this despite the unprecedented challenges of the current election. However, the most interesting panelist, Wanless, was also the least bullish about the process.

Electoral Integrity Partnership

Yesterday, I attended the webinar for the public launch of the Election Integrity Partnership between Stanford, U Dub, Graphika and the Atlantic Council. Quite serious and professional public-interest work being done, and clearly timely.

The definition of electoral disinformation the Partnership adopted as their operational target seemed quite well-tailored and manageably factual (e.g. information such as voting hours and poll locations, the presence or absence of massive queues, mis-documented instances of fraud…).

What struck me as remarkable, however, is that there would be plausible user cases in which this type of factual information would be sought first and foremost, or with greater assurance and trust, on random posts on social media platforms: this really speaks to a gigantic lack of authoritativeness or communication ability on the part of election officials.