Electoral Law Security and Social Media Influences

Elections are the backbone of our country’s democracy. The choices we make during voting cycles can have a significant impact on the legislature. Perhaps more importantly, they have direct effects on people’s quality of life. As such, it is essential to ensure that robust methods are in place to protect the integrity of the electoral process.

In recent years, this process has faced significant challenges. The 2020 election, in particular, has been awash with baseless allegations of security breaches and fraudulent behavior. The flow of disinformation was so strong that it led to an attack on the US Capitol. Indeed, the result has been a general erosion of confidence in our elections.

We’ll take a closer look at the current state of election security, the legal actions involved, and the influence of social media.

Technological concerns

Technology is a positive part of our elections. Voting machines are designed to eliminate the risk of human error or corruption that could disrupt the integrity and accuracy of the process. The technology also supports voter registration and public access to key election information.

However, the tools used in elections have also been the subject of cybersecurity concerns.

This concern is not entirely unfounded. The 2016 Russian cyberattacks on the US presidential election prompted urgent security reviews. Following some improvements, the 2020 election was considered by many to be the most cyber-secure in years. Nonetheless, there remains a feeling that government-operated technology, particularly voting machines, is untrustworthy.

This has been a persistent argument against the legitimacy of the 2020 election results. Yet it is important to note how rigorous legal teams and federal agencies have been in ensuring the integrity of voting technology. Since 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have worked closely together to make election technology more resilient. As a result, despite claims to the contrary, there were no successful election technology breaches in 2020.

This does not mean that election technology is invulnerable. Technology is constantly evolving, with advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) presenting cybersecurity challenges. Democratic and independent senators have asked Joe Biden to devote $5 billion in grants to improving election security. Unfortunately, that lacks Republican support. If the public is to regain confidence in the integrity of elections, constant efforts must be made to ensure that the technology involved meets high legal and security standards.

Participation in social media

Social media can be a powerful tool for elections. After all, any additional engagement in the electoral process from all demographic groups should be seen as a good thing. Interactive social media content can be effective in broadening the reach of important information and messages. Candidate live streams, call-to-action buttons, and polls can all influence voter behavior. Even previously apathetic demographics can find encouragement in marking their ballots.

However, we have also seen social media being used as a tool to spread harmful forms of misinformation. Fake news has become a common feature of social media. This should be considered a matter of election security. After all, it affects the integrity and fairness of the democratic process. It is also an important platform for foreign interference in the national government. A 2020 report from the University of Wisconsin’s Brennan Center for Justice detailed how social media accounts with links to the Kremlin posted divisive content to influence voters.

Unfortunately, there is relatively little legislation to combat this behavior. Disseminating information intended to mislead voters in a way that prevents them from voting may fall under voter suppression legislation. But in most cases, the methods are not so brutal.

On the contrary, the sharing of fake news that is not specifically designed to suppress voters is largely protected by the First Amendment. Not to mention that foreigners seeking to influence elections through the media are generally beyond US jurisdiction. What makes this so difficult is that it is a violation of electoral integrity by legally legitimate means.

Disinformation Responsibilities

It may seem that the spread of misinformation online is an insurmountable problem for election security. After all, a huge volume of divisive and fake content is constantly being introduced and shared every day. Nevertheless, our society is not completely powerless to act from a legal point of view.

There is a misunderstanding that blocking social media accounts is tantamount to censorship. The First Amendment only protects citizens from government censorship. Indeed, an attempt by Texas to pass legislation preventing the removal of misinformation posts failed. However, companies are naturally reluctant to act in a way that smacks of unnecessary censorship. There are, however, tools these companies can use to fix the problem.

Twitter has been particularly active in verifying misinformation. When questionable content is found to contain false information, the company labels the message as containing potentially misleading information. It certainly does not amount to censorship. Rather, it gives voters access to quality, credible information to provide context.

Unfortunately, at present, media companies are not legally required to use these fact-checking services or other measures. Despite the power of these platforms, they are not held to the same due diligence responsibilities as traditional media. Facebook is particularly opposed to vetting political posts. While it is important to exercise caution, without regulatory and legislative action this problem is likely to continue and worsen.

Conclusion

Strong election security is essential to maintaining the integrity of our democracy. However, our relationship with the technology involved in the process can be problematic. Lawmakers and federal agencies must continue their efforts to improve the cybersecurity of voting technologies. However, perhaps the most pervasive threat remains misinformation via social media. Until we can establish methods to balance free speech with mitigating lies, the security of our elections will remain at risk.

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About Marjorie C. Hudson

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