The U.S. midterm elections are approaching and one of the highest priorities for the federal government at the moment is to prevent foreign interference. On Friday, some of the biggest security agencies set on the alarm by confirming that Russia, China, Iran, and other foreign states are actively trying to hack and meddle with the upcoming elections. They are trying to hack the networks and databases of state and local governments and are executing misleading campaigns on various digital platforms. The news came as a joint statement released by a few government agencies including the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The authorities highlighted that foreign states might seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making not only in the upcoming 2018 midterms, but their actions might also be preparing the ground for interference in the 2020 U.S. elections.
Facebook is making efforts to combat foreign states from interfering. The company’s headquarters in Menlo Park has a new department known as the ‘war room.’ Mark Zuckerberg’s new task force predominantly consists of data engineers, developers, data scientists, and policymakers. They are in place to help the tech giant battle misinformation and decrease foreign influence. While Facebook’s actions are certainly a move in the right direction for the social network, government agencies are not leaving the faith of the 2018 midterm elections in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg’s new team.
The authorities are actively trying to take matters into their own hands. Last week we saw the first charge for meddling in the midterm elections. Elena Khusyaynova, a Russian citizen, was charged over alleged intentions to interfere in this year’s elections. The Russia-based accountant is allegedly associated with an organization that actively interfered with the presidential elections in 2016. Back in 2016, the organization participated in purchasing political advertisements on various social networks in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Members of the same Russia-based company were posing as Americans and were failing to disclose their Russian identities while soliciting and compensating real U.S. citizens to promote or disparage candidates. According to the criminal complaint against the Russian charged with electoral interference, over the last ten months, Elena has been participating in a scheme to spend more than $10 million on targeted social media campaigns aiming “to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system.”
What are the elements of these misleading campaigns and how to stay away from them?
According to the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the content of these campaigns might reach you in many forms, including using social media to amplify divisive issues, sponsored specific content in the English-language press like RT and Sputnik, or through sympathetic spokespersons discussing political candidates. One of the best ways to prevent foreign states from using you as a tool that causes harm to the U.S. democracy is to avoid sketchy websites and always get your information from trusted media outlets. Gathering information from unknown sources might not only lead to misinformation but may also hurt your personal life – malicious websites can steal sensitive data from your connected devices. It is always a good idea to have antivirus software that can stop you and your loved ones from accessing websites known to cause harm.