August 20, 2020
Offering PTO to tech workers who work at polling places, proactively notifying users who have consumed disinformation and offering mobile voting are among the solutions presented by members of Protocol's Braintrust.
President at Verified Voting
Amid the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of foreign interference in elections, two issues seem particularly suited for Big Tech to tackle: helping to remedy lack of people resources at the polls and reducing the spread of false information.
Poll workers are typically hard to recruit, but fear of contracting COVID-19 has made recruitment even more difficult this year. Tech companies have a pool of younger, tech-savvy employees and could encourage them to serve by giving them paid time off for their service. This assumes that the jurisdictions have enough PPE and other protections for poll workers to be safe. Providing financial resources to supply polling locations with proper protective equipment is another way they could help.
Tech companies also have a responsibility to promote transparency and accurate information from verified election officials, including flagging and removing false information. Currently circulating narratives about fraud are sowing distrust in U.S. elections.
Many aspects of how elections are run, how ballots are handled, processed and counted are largely not known or understood by the public. Between now and Election Day, tech companies should collaborate with election officials to provide accurate information about the procedures in place to protect against fraud and the time needed to accurately count all of the ballots. With the anticipated uptick in mail in ballots, getting this information out early and setting expectations for when results would be available could counter false narratives of rigged or fraudulent elections.
Senior Counsel, Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law
Social media platforms and other internet companies have created the most powerful tools in history for bad actors to spread disinformation designed to trick people out of voting. Although most of the biggest platforms have banned lies about voting procedures, it is unclear how effective these bans are due to inconsistent enforcement and frequent policy changes. Internet companies should have clear rules on what disinformation will be taken down and consistent enforcement irrespective of partisanship or fame.
Platforms should have clear channels for users to report disinformation, as well as staff contacts for favored partners like election officials and voter protection groups. Humans, not algorithms, should review anything flagged as voting disinformation, and users should be able to quickly appeal takedowns to a human. Platforms should preserve data about posts and accounts spreading disinformation to share with researchers.
Just as important as stopping disinformation, however, is countering it with the truth. Social media platforms and search engines should proactively push accurate voting information to all their users, taking into account where they live. Platforms should offer special protection against hacking and spoofing for election officials' accounts and mark them as verified. They should also promote official content in users' feeds and search results.
When platforms discover falsehoods about voting, they should notify election officials in the relevant jurisdiction. And social media companies have a responsibility to correct the information for their users, too, by pushing accurate information to all users who saw the disinformation.
SVP of Policy and Senior Counsel for Trust, Data and Technology at ITI
The 2020 election is unprecedented in many ways, including the growing distrust Americans have in the voting process. A recent survey found that a majority of American adults are not confident that the November elections will be conducted in a fair and equal way.
An important factor that may affect trust in the 2020 election involves misinformation campaigns waged by state actors, including leveraging online platforms to spread false information such as manipulated videos known as "deepfakes." The COVID-19 pandemic is also complicating the trust equation because it will necessitate new voting means, including vastly increased numbers of absentee and mail-in ballots, and even drive-through voting.
The tech industry is working to increase voter confidence in the election by monitoring and removing content on its platforms, including deploying innovative technologies to detect inauthentic content. Tech companies can help ensure compatibility and transparency across the different means of voting.
Building on existing work with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and state and local government partners who operate our election infrastructure, we need to continue to leverage public-private partnerships and election security communities of practice to secure the 2020 election. By doing so, we can share technical expertise that will improve both the cybersecurity and resilience of the election infrastructure and associated IT systems, and share information to increase visibility regarding potential cybersecurity threats as the election approaches.
CEO at Tusk Ventures
Make mobile voting available. So far, 14 different jurisdictions in states like Utah, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and West Virginia have allowed either deployed military or people with disabilities to vote in elections on their phones (either over the blockchain or the cloud). All 14 elections were independently audited by the National Cybersecurity Center. All came back clean. Turnout more than doubled on average. In a time when voting by mail is presenting significant logistical concerns (not to mention political interference from the White House), giving people a way to participate that doesn't require the postal service or in-person voting (which is unreasonable to ask without a vaccine) is essential.
Mobile voting technology is not ready for use at scale, but we could pick specific populations that could benefit most from mobile voting (older people for whom the COVID risk is high or people with disabilities for whom traditional voting is difficult) or populations that will have great fluency with voting remotely (younger people) and will be able to do so without difficulty.
And if we can prove that mobile voting works, we can then start to institute it in future elections where turnout is especially low (presidential turnout isn't bad but turnout in local primaries can be under 10%) and give elected officials the political incentives they need to represent the views of the many rather than the few.
Founder & CEO at Alethea Group
With less than 100 days until Election Day, we are surrounded by disinformation. Until the last ballot is counted, which we anticipate will be well after Nov. 3, this will be the environment in which we live. After 2016, governments and social media platforms have made few public attempts to disrupt the systems that enable the spread of disinformation. In order to preserve our democratic and economic institutions, we must hold these entities accountable and require transparency around disinformation.
Haphazard collaboration and quickly spun up efforts launched in August are insufficient lip service to a systemic problem. Foreign and domestic entities using political disinformation began focusing on 2020 four years ago. The networks they built will continue to be activated and deployed before the election in order to manipulate voters and subsequently sow chaos while we wait for a declared winner. We are late to the game.
The best thing social media platforms and government can do is increase transparency through consistent labeling practices across platforms and warn social media users that they've been exposed to disinformation. Users should not have to become digital investigators to determine the source of their information. Any success should be sustained and replicated overseas, as it is naive to think that disinformation exists in an American vacuum.
To keep our democratic experiment alive, government agencies and tech companies must renew and generate trust in our democratic process. The public deserves transparency. Our democracy depends on it.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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