The Belfer Center’s Defending Digital Democracy Project
EPISODE 5: THINK BAD, DO GOOD
Defending Digital Democracy
Mis/Disinformation and the 2020 Presidential Election
Jonathan Reiber, Senior Director for Cybersecurity Strategy and Policy, AttackIQ
Guests: Maria Barsallo Lynch, Siobhan Gorman, and Robby Mook of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Join cybersecurity and public affairs experts Robby Mook, Siobhan Gorman, and Maria Barsallo Lynch of Harvard’s Defending Digital Democracy project as they discuss the coming presidential election and how state and local government officials and American citizens can take steps to assure its integrity. Over the last four years these individuals have played significant leadership roles in the United States in helping the states learn about and prepare for cyberspace operations and disinformation operations alike, and last week the Harvard team released The Election Influence Operations Playbook, Part 1, to help election officials manage the threat of disinformation operations to the election.
Defending Digital Democracy was founded in the aftermath of the 2016 election by a group of bipartisan policy, technology, and political leaders to help defend the country’s democratic processes in cyberspace. Since then the Harvard team has produced over half a dozen playbooks and landmark research projects and engaged state, local, and federal government organizations as they address cybersecurity risks to the U.S. democratic process. Please see below for more information about the team and its research – and give the podcast a listen!
Maria Barsallo Lynch
Executive Director of the Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P)
Maria Barsallo Lynch is the Executive Director of the Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Barsallo Lynch brings a background in politics and an academic background at the cross-section of cybersecurity and technology to the leadership team of D3P. She has helped grow the project’s work and impact in providing solutions and tools to keep democratic processes safe. She believes in the importance of helping decision makers and consumers gain literacy in the growing fields of cybersecurity, technology innovation, and the space in between.
Barsallo Lynch has guided D3P’s research and recommendations on cybersecurity and influence operations ahead of the 2020 Election. She is an author and collaborator on numerous efforts to further recommendations on national security policy issues. Barsallo Lynch serves as a member of Berkman Klein Center’s Digital Pandemic Response Working Group and Assembly Forum. She holds a B.A. from The Colorado College and serves on its Alumni Association Committee. She also holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School. She is an alumna of the International DO School Fellowship.
Senior Fellow, Defending Digital Democracy Project
Robby Mook, a CNN political commentator, is a nationally recognized campaign manager and strategist who ran the 2015-16 presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mook is President of the House Majority PAC. He is an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and is also a Co-Founder and a Senior Fellow of the Defending Digital Democracy Project. Mook has been a leader in launching national efforts to counter cyber and information attacks on U.S. elections. He is a Co-Founder and Board Member of Defending Digital Campaigns.
Mook’s successes include the 2013 election of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe – the first time in 40 years that Virginians elected a governor from the same party as the sitting U.S President – and the 2008 election of Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s first woman Senator. He also was state director for Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary campaign in three states where she defeated Barack Obama in the primaries. In 2012, he served as Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Partner, Brunswick Group
Siobhan Gorman is a Partner in the Washington, D.C. office of the Brunswick Group, where she concentrates on crisis, cybersecurity, public affairs, and media relations. Siobhan has worked on corporate crisis across a range of industries, including financial services, healthcare, defense, entertainment, technology, and automotive.
Siobhan has also led a range of cybersecurity, public affairs, litigation, and corporate reputation projects in the financial, retail, airline, and technology sectors. Tapping her longtime journalism experience, she regularly advises clients on media relations issues and conducts media training for executives.
Siobhan is a member of the Senior Advisory Group for Harvard University’s Defending Digital Democracy Project, which is focused on preventing and mitigating cyberattacks on the election process. She is also a member of the Advisory Committee for Brown University’s Executive Master in Cybersecurity.
Prior to joining Brunswick, Siobhan had a successful 17-year career as a reporter, most recently at The Wall Street Journal. At The Journal, she covered a range of national security and law enforcement topics, including counterterrorism, intelligence, and cybersecurity. Prior to joining The Journal in 2007, Siobhan was a Washington correspondent for The Baltimore Sun covering intelligence and security. From 1998 to 2005, she was a staff correspondent for National Journal covering similar issues. She began her career as a researcher for a columnist at The Washington Post.
Siobhan won the 2006 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Washington Correspondence for her coverage of the National Security Agency and in 2000 received a special citation in national magazine writing from the Education Writers Association. She has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize and is a graduate of Dartmouth College.
Siobhan was featured in Cybersecurity Venture’s Women Know Cyber: 100 Fascinating Females Fighting Cybercrime, released in 2019.
About the Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P)
The Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) brings together a unique combination of bipartisan experts in the political, cyber, technology, and national security fields to identify and recommend strategies and tools to protect democratic processes and systems from cyber and information attacks.
D3P Election Influence Operations Playbook
The Election Influence Operations Playbook focuses on a subset of influence operations (IO): the types of disinformation attacks and misinformation incidents that most commonly interfere with the election process, where election officials are best positioned to counter them. The Playbook includes three sections with resources and recommendations on navigating information threats targeting elections. It offers an introduction to election influence operations: what they are, how they work, and why they can impact our elections. It also includes recommendations for reporting, responding to, and countering mis and disinformation incidents around elections.
This Playbook is meant to be a starting point and can be adapted for each jurisdiction’s needs. It provides guidance and practical tips to election officials for countering these incidents and for getting accurate information to voters. It also serves as a resource for those who can be a helpful part of the officials’ response process by quickly assuring that their correct information reaches voters and by validating the election officials as trusted sources of information.
D3P National Election Data Set
U.S. national security officials have warned that malicious actors will continue to use influence operations and disinformation attacks against the United States targeting the 2020 election. Influence Operations are occurring before, during and after election day. D3P has been working to provide recommendations and resources that highlight a subset of influence operations–the types of disinformation attacks and misinformation incidents most commonly seen around the election process.
The 2020 general election and its aftermath will be unlike any previous election that the American public has experienced. D3P has developed a dataset detailing the most relevant state-specific factors that describe our election process and that could affect the overall tempo of the election. This is a living document that D3P will update on a regular basis as state-by-state data changes in real time.
Additional U.S. Government and Non-governmental Resources on Election Security
- Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
- CISA #Protect 2020
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- #TrustedInfo 2020
- National Task Force on Election Crises
- US Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
- National Association of State Election Directors (NASED)
- NASED for Voters
- National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS)
Welcome, everybody, to our fifth episode of “Think Bad Do Good” and today, I am extremely pleased to have three immensely talented people from Harvard’s Belfer Center at the Kennedy School. We’ve got Maria Barsallo Lynch, the Executive Director of Defending Digital Democracy, Robby Mook, and Siobhan Gorman, both Senior Fellows at the Belfer Center and key leaders of Defending Digital Democracy and today, we are extremely pleased to have them on to talk about misinformation and disinformation. They have just launched a new misinformation disinformation playbook. It’s called, “Election Influence Operations Handbook,” and you find it in the links here below the video and on our website, so check it out. We’re not going to cover all of it because it’s immensely comprehensive, and I think that would probably take us like two hours.
I’m going to brag about these people because I want to do that. After the Russian intervention in our election for 2016, Harvard convened a group of bipartisan technology and political leaders from across the United States and really what, to my mind, is the most innovative and important effort to secure the digital integrity of our elections. And these three people have had such key leadership roles in this effort. And over the last four years, D3P, as the group is commonly known, has brought together folks from across the US to do exercises and produce more six handbooks, one of which I think, Maria, was translated in to 10 languages through the Democratic Institute… Who did you partner with on that?
Maria Barsallo Lynch:
In collaboration with the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
So this isn’t just for American elections. This has become a global handbook. It’s really remarkable. I got to attend one of them in 2018 and listen as all the Secretaries of State and their staff went through these exercises. It was such an incredible expression of talent and patriotism. We’re so pleased to be able to bring you these three thought leaders and to have a really important conversation today.
Our goals are two-fold. We’re going to talk to you about how to secure the electoral process in the democratic process against misinformation and disinformation. And it’s really for you, the viewer, the citizen, but also we’re going to talk to state and local officials. So there are two audiences that are part of the conversation. So let’s get started.
The first thing I want to do is let’s talk about what is a misinformation and disinformation campaign? What does it do to a democracy and what does it feel like? And I’d like to start with you, Robby, on that.
Yeah. Well, I think it’s important to understand, first of all, that a lot of this is being deliberately promulgated by adversaries. Their interest is not necessarily promoting a political agenda like let’s say different parties or interest groups in the US are where they’re trying to strategically advance a given set of things. This is adversaries who just want the US to kind of turn on itself and to screw up on the global stage, for a lack of a better term.
And so, they’re really looking for a bunch of different scenes in society. Where are people going to get angry with each other? And how can we sow distrust in key institutions? Obviously, our elections are the institution, right, because our government runs on this. It’s how we make decisions. There’s an thing called an election and that decides who is in charge. And so if they can create chaos around that, it weakens us and strengthens their hand or gives them more space to do the things that they want to do.
One other thing that I would just point out, is that most misinformation, or propaganda for that matter, tends to be predicated on something that is at least partially true, so the people are open hearing it. And in that regard too, it’s a bit of a death spiral. If someone says, “Well, there’s this aspect of the election. Can we really trust it?” And then by spreading that misinformation, they sow more distrust, make that even more true in people’s minds and then it just proceeds from there. It’s important to kind of stop the snowball early before trust erodes entirely.
That’s a great point. So, Siobhan, what do you think are the most important things? Maria and Siobhan, all three of you? What do you think are the most important things you would say to a state and local official in the event that a misinformation/disinformation campaign is unfolding?
I guess a couple of things. I mean, not all disinformation is created equal. So, the first thing that you need to do is assess whether or not this is really likely to have an impact on the stakeholders that you care about, which are probably the voters. And if the answer is yes, there are a couple of other questions around it: is it gaining momentum, is it high volume, that you’re going to want to think about to determine whether or not you’re going to respond at all.
Because it’s okay just to say, “No we’re just going to watch and wait.” You don’t necessarily need to jump into action, because there is a risk that you could make it a bigger deal than it is. However, it is easier to dial back your response, than it is to dial it up too late. So, this is a tough decision. If you think that there is a chance that it’s going to grow, you should probably dive in and respond with the facts as quickly as possible and dial back if needed. It’s a very tough judgment call there.
But the first thing is that you’ve got to determine what your response is, or if you’re going to respond and what your response is and then how you’re going to deploy it. Do you have validators and others who can help amplify your message. Those would be the three things. Are you going to respond? What are you going to say? And then, how are you going to get it out there?
If you haven’t started preparing today, as a state and local election official, which I think is pretty rare, I would hope at this point. What is the sort of nudge that you would give to someone? Like, if they didn’t know where to get started? Who should they reach out to to really begin moving on this?
I can take that and pass it to Maria. I think that they could certainly reach out to anybody at the Defending Digital Democracy Project. There are also a number of states that have done an enormously good job at this. In fact, I happen to be speaking yesterday to a weekly program that the Ohio Secretary of State holds to educate votes and election officials about key elements of it. I also learned that the Ohio Secretary of State’s office I think is going to be doing some Facebook live briefings for the public and for media.
California has also done a lot in this respect. I mean, there are a number of states that you can also kind of look to to borrow from, so you don’t have to feel like you’re starting from scratch.
I think what Siobhan said is exactly right. And I feel, in conversations with officials across the country so far, there’s also recognition that many officials may have already started to see misinformation incidents. Even if they’re still adapting, creating a new response plan, which is in part what the playbook gets at is helping officials think about how do you build up or recreate your response plan. I think officials have already been starting to deal with these incidents. So one, recognizing that you may already know more than you think, and then leaning on collaborators, like Siobhan mentioned, that can help give you some resources or tips based on what they’ve done to already start to identify and counter mis and disinformation incidents.
Maria, do you have an example where you’ve seen sort of a great response to a misinformation or disinformation campaign where you can say that the state or this group of people succeeded?
I think there’s a lot of examples. We’ve been lucky enough to talk with a number of officials across the country and in trying to put together this resource and the playbook, our goal was really to understand how are officials responding to this now? And then, what else would be helpful in your response?
And I think Secretaries of State or election officials are getting really creative about when it’s a high severity incident like that, where it’s really gaining traction, it’s evident that it’s affected a large number of people, getting information out very vocally. So whether that’s through Twitter, through a video that talks about why this information is false.
And one thing I would add too, I think to your prior questions. There are maybe two categories of disinformation incidents that election officials might be seeing heading into the election. There may be … kind of the broader category of influence operations that are intended to stoke division, to amplify political discord, to really take advantage of a lot of the conversations we’re already having as Americans, and try to distort those. And then, there are disinformation incidents and misinformation incidents that voters or officials are going to encounter that are specific to the election process, and, I think, our work has tried to help officials recognize those because they’re in a really good position to counter them and to out share accurate information.
I was just going to say, I think some of this too, Maria and Shobahn, you both got to this, some of this is really basic about both having that ongoing engagement with the media to begin with, and then building relationships. We normally think of that, form a public affairs prospective, in terms of being able to get information out. But I think building those tools actually empowers you to stop a story later on if you need to.
For example, my own personal experience with this, we actually did an exercise in Iowa with the Republican and Democratic committees, to prepare them for misinformation and hacking before the Iowa caucuses. And then, lo and behold, there were some problems.
Literally, a fake news story that had been put together that somehow I had built this app that was used in the Iowa caucuses. And, fortunately, I had some relationships with reporters who were writing about this. Again, fortunately, they were coming to me saying, “Hey. I got this quote from somebody about you building this app.” I mean that’s how crazy it got to the point where people were giving quotes about something that never happened. But because I had those relationships, I was able to bat the story down. People I didn’t know would just go ahead and publish. They wouldn’t even think to contact you.
I think some of this, to me, really reinforces elections officials getting out there, engaging with the media, building those relationships, so when something that… Again the adversary is looking for stuff that’s kind of interesting, snacky, it’s going to spread. When a reporter has that, they’re going to pick up the phone and say, “Is this really true?” And that’s the ideal, because then you just kill it in the cradle.
What a great series of points. One of the things I love about your program is that you’ve worked so hard over the last four years to build these relationships between, not just the states, but between technology professionals and folks in the media, to have these kinds of conversations to prepare in advance. And clearly, like right now, if anyone hasn’t done that, they should start going through the exercises. At our company, AttackIQ, we believe firmly in exercising in advance, and that’s what gets you ready. So, I love that point.
And what about for the average citizen? We’ve been talking a lot about state and election officials, but how can the average viewer take steps in advance to sort of either calm their nerves, or in some way participate in our democracy to make the election more secure?
I personally think, we, in the same way with COVID, that we’re all having to look out for each other, be careful, wear a mask, protect other people, so on, I think it’s just important that people protect others by being careful about what they share.
Maybe you just casually share something and think, “Well, I don’t care about that, but it’s very interesting. Other people can research whether it’s true.” If you’re sharing that and you’re spreading that around, some people aren’t going to be as critical as you. Or you think it’s sort of fun.
Sometimes there’s sort of like, “Look at how stupid this election official is. I can’t believe they did that.” Well, maybe they didn’t. So, I think it’s really important to be careful about what we’re sharing and that we’re not actually helping bad people do bad things by spreading stuff around. And I think with social media, in the last few months and years, we’ve kind of learned this. That people tend to pile on very quickly without getting all the facts. And sometimes it really ends up hurting people.
Yeah. In a way I think it’s almost like, “Don’t trust and verify,” if it’s on social media. If it’s like in a major media publication, you should still try to verify it, but I would just have the threshold for assuming something is true that you see on social media being quite high, because people can, quite inadvertently, can become part of the problem very quickly. And the other thing that I think that the public can do is make sure that when you are making decisions like, “When am I going to go vote?”
That you’re consulting authoritative sources, that you’re looking to your county election officials, your state election officials, a verified authoritative source for information about what’s going on. And if you’re voting on voting day, I would go ahead and check that morning before you go, because that way you’ll know if there are specific things that have just come up that you need to attend to or pay attention to before you vote. If there’s nothing there, in all likelihood, things are proceeding as normal, regardless of what you’re seeing on social media.
Maria, do you have anything that you want to add to that?
Yeah. I would just add that as people start to better understand what mis and disinformation looks like, to just realize that it’s not just on election day. You might be seeing these incidents, before election day, during election day, and after election day. And following Siobhan’s advice to be looking for verified, authoritative sources of information, like your election jurisdiction, election official, other kind of elected officials. You want to continue to do that it if you’re seeing mis or disinformation or something that seems like it might be, even after the election. That’s, I think, a timeframe of just understanding this is cyclical and it may not just be one day.
This is a point that I want to drill down on because this is something that I think folks aren’t really thinking about is the period. We’re talking, right now, a lot of before and during the election, but I want to get into the aftermath and also the idea of not having the results as quickly as the American people are used to. I think that’s really important. But before we do, I just want to flag one thing.
Right now, this environment, unlike 2016, which had incredible stresses associated with it for its own reasons, this one is even more compressed because of COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement, and now, for us in California, we’ve gone through these fires, like all up and down the West Coast, like the United States is in this period of acute stress and strain. And if I’m an adversary, I’m going to look at the country and, as you’re handbook points out, there’s a whole bunch of really deeply ingrained historical sensitive touch points in American history, and if I’m an adversary, I’m going to say, “Oh, look, the US is really running a fever of 103 right now, I’m going to try and push as much as I possibly can.”
I wonder if y’all have thought a lot about how to sort of calm the American people down. The tactics that you’re talking about are so important, but like maybe you’re going to share something more quickly when you’re stressed out. And during an election, it’s stressful in general, but I don’t know. Is this something that you guys have thought about?
You know, it’s such an interesting question. I think that social media, on the one hand, has been an incredibly positive and powerful force in our political process. I think it empowers people to organize really efficiently, and get the word out on things, and come together, and build community, all those things. And all those things are really good. I think one of the challenges it’s created is we just have a crush of information and sometimes we don’t have a lot of perspective or context on it.
And so, I think in some ways, for everyone, we have to… The same we want to make sure is something accurate. We have to take a deep breath and say, “What’s important to me? What am I really going to focus on? What matters to me? And what matters to the country right now?” And those are things that everybody has to decide for themselves, but I think if we’re just in this kind of staccato outrage on everything everyday, it’s going to be hard to get things done.
Sometimes, even in my own life, I’m just trying to take a deep breath and maybe take in less volume, but replace that with more depth. And that’s sort of something for all of us to think about moving forward.
That’s really well said. Anybody want to add anything on to that before we pivot to the next question? Okay. Maria, you’re thinking. I saw your eyes moving.
I was thinking. I would say, I mean I don’t know if this prospective will be something that would help create calm, but I guess in our perspective as a project, we’re a bipartisan project, we’ve had the opportunity to work with officials, many of whom don’t necessarily consider themselves partisan, but are really focused on maintaining the integrity of the democratic process.
And I think a lot of times, although we may not, always know the intent behind a specific influence operation, broadly, we understand that these are trying to tear at the fabric of our democratic process and have us question democracy as a whole. I think there are a lot of other issues that should be looked at and are important that we’re having important partisan conversations about. But, I do think that there is a lot that has happened since 2016 to try and help keep the integrity of the election and a lot of people working to do that.
So I would say that hopefully that’s somewhat of a hopeful perspective, but I know it certainly does feel like we’re under attack. Especially when we try to understand things like influence operations.
Yeah. I have to tell you, as I said in the beginning, in 2018 when I watch D3P do that one exercise, it was one of the most hopeful things that I’ve been able to observe in a long time. I’ve tried to communicate that to everyone I meet like, “Look. There are people who are doing really good work.” So, it is a really hopeful point.
Let’s talk about the aftermath of the election and the idea that we may not actually know the results in the way that we’re accustomed to. This is something that I think that you’ve raised. How do you think this might play out? What are the messages you’d want to communicate to the public about that period? Who wants to go first? Siobhan?
Sure. I think that first is really to be patient. It’s important to set expectations. And the likelihood that we will know, certainly who’s won the presidential election, and probably this will be the case for many elections happening on election day, the likelihood that we’ll know that night or even the next morning feels incredibly low to me. I think it’s success, frankly, if we know during the first week after the election who has won. I think that the premium is really placed on having an accurate vote count. Inauguration isn’t until January 20th, so we’ve got some time to figure it out. And it is extremely important to let the process play out.
My concern is that that whole time lag period is going to create great opportunity for lots of people to try to gain leverage. Of course, you’ll have both parties trying to gain leverage, that’s expected and probably appropriate. But, there will also be others trying to get into the mix. And you may start seeing almost a combination of foreign adversaries who are trying to create chaos, as Robby was pointing to, preying on the fact that you all have a very contentious post-election process and finding a way to insert various types of disinformation misinformation-type warfare types of techniques to further explode that situation and just sow chaos. Because if they sow chaos, they’ve won.
My concern is that’s really the period that is ripe for disinformation that creates enormous amount of societal upheaval, because everybody’s just going to be kind of… it’s like lighting a tinderbox that’s already there. My hope would be that at least those who are in a position to convey accurate information set expectations, things like that, that would be the media, but also other people in official positions speaking publicly work to set expectations and try to bring the heat down a little bit and have people be more patient.
Yeah. Robby, what do you think?
Yeah. 100%. I agree. I think, to me, we need to start from, “What do we value in this process? What’s important?” And two things are important. One, is that everybody who’s eligible to vote gets the opportunity. And that means that some people are going to be voting by mail. We’ve seen in some states where regulations are changing, even courts are intervening to say. That means ballots only have to be postmarked on election day. They don’t even have to arrive. That is going to slow the process down in some cases.
But again, speed is not what is important. It’s that everybody gets the chance to cast their vote. And then the second thing is that the count is accurate. And so again, time may just creep in and make that process more complicated, or rather longer, and that’s okay, because what we’re valuing is the accuracy. So I think everybody has a responsibility, media, public leaders, each one of us individually even when we’re just talking to folks to really keep the focus on those two things: access and accuracy.
And I think as long as we do, all of a sudden, it puts the speed element in perspective, and reinforces that time doesn’t mean something’s wrong, as Siobhan was saying, it just means that we’re getting it right, which is really good and something to celebrate, actually.
That feels like a point that we should be communicating to folks in the media and to the public right now. Like, “The election may take longer than you’re accustomed to.” Like, “The most important thing is that everyone gets the chance to vote. It may take time, and that’s okay.” Like I don’t think that that’s something that’s in the average American’s mind right now, because we’re so used to knowing at midnight or at 1:00 in the morning. I mean every election in the last decade that I remember, or however long, that’s when we’ve known. Does this feel like something we should be telling the world?
I think so. And I think we certainly see that there is a desire to talk about this. And I think that as more public education efforts continue to gear up heading into the election, you will start to see that, hopefully, be communicated to voters and also across the media. But I’m curious for Robby and Siobhan’s thoughts, too. That’s just the generally sense from some of the conversations and some of the things that we’re seeing in the space.
Yeah. Do you anticipate major public leaders to start articulating this point?
Well, I think we’ve been talking about these election officials. I actually think that this just reinforces how important it is for them, not just to respond to incoming, but to have a strategic narrative about the election process. And actually, we’ve seen a lot of this recently. We’ve seen governors, school superintendents and others need to have a strategic narrative about how they’re managing COVID, for example.
I think election officials need something similar about, again, what are our values, what do we have to get right, what is it going to take to do that, what role do we all play. And again, when you put all this in that context, not only is nothing wrong, but things are actually really right. I think that part of the hurdle or challenge that we need to overcome is this sense that somehow time, taking more time, means something’s wrong, because in the past that has been the case. Look, it might also just take a long time because it’s just close.
And, for example, we haven’t even talked about provisional ballots, where some people show up at the wrong polling place, so there’s an error in the election rolls and they have to … you know everyone has the right to submit a provisional ballot that they can go back and then cure, is the term, to provide evidence that they were registered, and so on. Sometimes you need to count those to finalize the vote total and a state, like Arizona, tends to have a lot of provisional ballots. So if the race is within half a point there, those provisional ballots are going to matter. That’s going to take a lot of time, but, you know what? If we care about, again, one person one vote, it’s important that people are taking the time to prove that they were eligible, and that that was proper vote and so on.
Yeah. And just to add to the point about public officials speaking out.
I do think that Secretaries of State are in a unique position at this point in time. Because, typically, Secretaries of State are not public officials that get a lot of attention. This is the time when they’re getting a lot of attention. There was a recent meet the press that had, I think, three or four Secretaries of State featured and they were talking, obviously, about all the things that we’re talking about.
And, in fact, it was actually there that the Secretary of State of Michigan, Jocelyn Benson, said, “We should be thinking about election week.” And so, the more that, I think, you have people in official positions, like a Secretary of State, starting to set those expectations publicly and frequently, the better.
My hope would be that you could pretty much have the Secretaries of every state, Secretary of State or election director in every state, kind of carrying that message, because it’s in everybody’s interest that we kind of reset those expectations.
It’s an incredible leadership opportunity, right? These folks can stand up and communicate these messages right now. No matter what happens we’re in a period of tension. And even if no one intervenes, they will have done an incredible thing to calm down the population. Of course, they say never tell anyone to calm down, it never works. There’s this great meme that goes something like, “Don’t say calm down.” But to assuage the population’s concerns in advance and to establish that level of authority.
We’re running up against time and I want to give each of you the chance to sort of add any concluding thoughts. I know we’ve covered a lot of terrain. And there will be a transcript of this talk available for folks who prefer to read it. But, why don’t, Maria, we’ll start with you and then Siobhan, and Robby.
Sure. Well thank you so much for having us. We certainly hope the Elections Influence Operations Playbook is not only a helpful resource for officials, but also for voters and just people who are hoping to better understand mis and disinformation and hoping to understand how they can watch out for it as we head into this election.
One thought I had about what voters could do is when we talk to officials we say, “You might be proactively monitoring for these incidents or they’re being reported to you somehow.” And officials think a lot about mis and disinformation to make sure that they’re giving voters accurate information. So, as a voter, if you are really concerned about something that seems like it is incorrect information, something you could think about is also reaching out to your local jurisdiction and sharing information about something that you’re seeing.
If you know it’s a false post, if you know that something is falsifying the time or drop-off information. I think that part of what we’re getting at with the guides is that this is a network approach, a community approach, to best counter incorrect information. So the more that we can share the correct information and know that incorrect information is circulating, hopefully that’s how we’ll be able to tackle this specific threat.
I would just add, to kind of come back to where we started, you talked about the Influence Operations Playbook itself. I think it is, one, hopefully, a valuable resource for election officials. But, hopefully, it’s also a valuable resource for officials in a number of these sort of critical infrastructure industries, if you will, of which elections is one. Just because, I think that what we’re seeing happen in the elections arena, we’re going to see in other places.
Obviously, we’re seeing it in COVID now. And any area where there is an opportunity, in particular when you’re thinking about foreign adversaries and disinformation, if there are opportunities to sow chaos, particularly in American society, or Western society, you will probably be seeing disinformation soon. So I think it’s really wise, I think, for leaders across political infrastructures to start thinking about what the threats are.
And the nice thing about the playbook is that it gives you a structure to think about it, and you can apply it to your situation. But it does call out the fact that you need a process for determining if it’s a big deal and how to respond. You should do some scenario planning. This is what scenario planning looks like. There are some broader tools that, I hope, are very useful to election officials but are also quite useful beyond them.
Yeah. I totally agree with that.
I guess I’d say two things. One, for any officials out there, I hope that they find the playbook to be a helpful resource either because there’s stuff in there they haven’t thought of, or as they go through it, they think to themselves, “We’ve done a lot of this.” So they feel really good about that. To folks that are not officials, as a partisan, I’m usually telling people to volunteer or contribute to candidates, get involved in the political process, and I still believe that, but this year, actually, I think that it’s a really important time for those who are able and particularly younger people, I hope everybody goes to spend election day as a poll worker. Because there are literally hundreds of thousands of people needed for this process, there are never enough. That shortage is particularly acute this year.
But I can’t think of a better, more interesting way to spend election day than to actually be part of the process and help on a personal level to make sure that it’s run well. And from there, to be a messenger to other people about that process.
I hope for maybe people who it never even occurred to them as something they would ever do in their life, I hope that they think about that, and call their election official, and volunteer to do that.
That’s a great point, Robby. Thank you.
Thank you so much for joining us. I hope this is useful for you. It’s a tremendous honor for us to be able to get your message out there. Again, for folks that are viewing, you can see all the links. We’ll put all 5,000 of the products that D3P has produced down below. There’s a bunch of research that’s really, really good and consumable for state and local officials and for those of you who are just interested in the topic. We’ll also list federal government resources if you want to make requests, particularly of CISA, the Critical Infrastructure and Security Agency, I think that’s what it’s called under DHS. And also numbers for the FBI and other institutions if you do detect disinformation and you want to report it or if you detect any kind of hacking incidents. You can scroll down and see all of that information below. But for now, join me virtually in thanking these three great folks for joining us. Thank you.
Thanks for having us.