Why disinformation is the biggest threat to U.S. election security

What is the biggest threat to the US election and to people’s confidence in them?

Conspiracy theories.

It is according to no other as Christopher Krebs, the man formerly responsible for the Federal Agency for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security.

Today, About: Conspiracy Theories and the Democracy Threat Their Spread with Chris Krebs.


Chris krebs, partner of the Krebs Stamos group. He was Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of DHS from November 2018 to November 2020. (@C_C_Krebs)

Jack beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Also featured

Rashad robinson, president of Color of Change. Co-chair of the Commission on Information Disorders.

Interview highlights

On how conspiracy theories threaten elections

Chris Krebs: “Earlier this week, I think it was over the weekend or maybe the end of last week, the former president issued a statement. … He called anyone, any taker to a debate about the credibility of the 2020 election. Although he had hundreds of takers, he went on to claim that no one had accepted his offer, and he therefore canceled his offer to debate. But look, the point here more than anything is that there is no consequence, indeed, for the former president to spit out these lies.

“In fact, incentive structures work the other way around. He can fundraise. He can organize these rallies and continue to amplify the lies, and activate his base. He has hundreds of millions of dollars in a Political Action Committee war chest. is actually working on his incentive, or interest, to continue driving these lies. So to your larger question, what is the role of technology?

“And I think there is a significant obligation on social media platforms to do a better job of being transparent about how some certain actors so to speak, super-disseminators of disinformation, to limit scope or at least to providing information to researchers and journalists about how their platforms are being abused to the detriment of democracy now. ”

How far are you concerned that these conspiracy theories will be massively amplified until midway through 2022 next year? Could it escalate into a real physical mess?

Chris Krebs: “It’s happened before, hasn’t it?” January 6 was a physical manifestation of disinformation around the 2020 election. And in fact, basically us at CISA, we predicted that. In 2019, we launched an awareness campaign called Pineapple war, and the idea here was to educate the American people on how disinformation operations work. And it is indeed a five step process.

“But first you start by identifying the problem you want to drive out. And here it was election misinformation. The second was to start setting up accounts and getting your amplifiers – even your own family. And the third is you start hitting that on platforms, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever. Fourth, do you generalize it, and we’ve seen it on Fox News. We’ve seen it on Newsmax, OAN, Bannon’s War Room, all these fringe networks. And then fifth, you bring it into the real world, and that’s what January 6. It was the activation of the boost that had been happening for almost. , what, nine months at that time. So I expected that to happen again.

“And I think we’re starting to see some of the seeds of that happening today with… the constant shifting of the goal post – you mentioned the ‘fraud’ in Arizona or the mock audit that took place there. You start to see some of the pushers, the amplifiers start talking about citizen solicitations, where they want volunteers to start going out and knocking on doors in the different states. And start talking to people about: Did you vote? Who would you vote for? that’s where you’re going to start seeing that friction in the real world again, which is ultimately going to lead to political violence, as I see it, at a minimum of ’22, but definitely ’24. “

On how leaders can overcome the influence of disinformation

Chris Krebs: “There’s no silver bullet, of course, or there’s no magic wand we can wave, but it’s through engagement. It is through constant work. Once again, it is not easy. It will take others in the industry, in the media community to challenge Fox News and Tucker Carlson, right? We have to keep pushing this. We need to have business leaders who actually have a higher degree of trust, based on public polls, than political leaders.

“We need business leaders to come together and say, you know what? We’re not going to advertise these programs like Lara Logan, that’s comparing Fauci to Dr Josef Mengele. I mean, belief begging that we are still in the space, but that’s where it is. So we need more leadership in the business community. We need more leadership in the government space to say : Look, we understand this is a problem, it is not just an intelligence community affair, it is a societal problem.

“So what’s our plan?” How are we going to do it? All within the framework of the constraints – or rather the construction – of the First Amendment and protected discourse? So let’s reduce the damage, again improve transparency on social media platforms and get back to that point of growing trust in institutions.

On the importance of increasing the transparency of advertising

Chris Krebs: “Taking a step back, the way I see where we are now with social media platforms, I compared it to a kind of post-Enron moment where we had an audit system failure and oversight due to misrepresentation and lack of transparency. And how did they deal with that? Sarbanes-Oxley demanded a set of audit and transparency requirements for publicly traded companies. It’s kind of there where I see us right now in the social media ecosystem, where there is no transparency that has led to this collapse of trust in institutions, in this public prejudice.

“So what’s the equivalent of a Sarbanes-Oxley for social media platforms that doesn’t necessarily say you have to allow this content, but not this content. But what does it actually do? in place [is] Say, listen, you got to let us know how your processes work, what your content moderation policies are, how you enforce them, and then open that up to researchers and journalists in an authorized and protected way.

“Advertising transparency is only one. Because we see – and even yesterday Donie O’Sullivan with CNN explained how Facebook accepts ads for… Red Voices, I believe this is the company that promoted the T-shirts and It’s different when this is not the political discourse of political action committees, but when it’s interest groups selling t-shirts, they don’t have the same kind of control.

“So what we’re trying to open up is more information about how programs and platforms themselves moderate their content, which can then lead to more informed policy choices. Because we cannot make good political decisions that would lead to any regulation or legislation that would have a significant change. Because we don’t have enough information. And imperfect information leads to imperfect decisions. So in part, just with the element of transparency on the ads, trying to get a better idea of ​​how these algorithms are working behind the content promotion. “

How are we going to get a liability system here?

Chris Krebs: “We have every two or four years at the polls, or six years, depending on who your senator is. You see it in the Republican Party, the Cheney’s and the Kinzinger’s around the world… there are few and far between. But there are others. And so I think as we move away from the 2020 election, as we go through ’22, you might see more of it. But that’s not enough, right? It is absolutely not sufficient.

“So again we need the business community to step up. We need the civil society community to step up, these people call. And we have to keep pushing platforms that give liars, to the big liars the opportunity to throw up their lives. But hey, we have the court system, we have the court system. It is taking too long, but we are seeing lawsuits like Dominion Voting Systems against a number of these platforms. who are going to take them. And they “are not going to settle. They are going to get their 1.3 billion. If they win, I don’t know. But this is one of the mechanisms that is available. “

On How a Federal Approach Could Protect the Integrity of Elections

Chris Krebs: “The whole federal approach basically says, Hey, government, pull yourself together. There is no consistent understanding of the information turmoil space, whether it is a foreign threat or a national threat. So we need the federal government to come together, as with any other threat to national security.

“When they have a plan and they’ve tasked organizations and agencies to define their lines of work and how they’re going to approach the issues at hand, we don’t have that. We need it. And ultimately, where I think Just like in 1939 when FDR reorganized the federal government, I think we need to rethink how the government is organized to handle technology in digital risk issues, which could result in a digital agency.

From the playlist

Aspen Institute: “Final report of the Commission on Information Disorders“-” America is in a crisis of confidence and truth. Bad news has become as pervasive, persuasive and persistent as good news, creating a chain reaction of damage. “

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