Digital Misinformation & Electoral Manipulation: Transatlantic Perspective

August 22, 2019

In the News

As the 2020 US presidential election approaches, there is escalating national concern over the security of democratic voting, echoing those faced by France and the United States in their most recent cycles.

While Congress allocated $380 million to upgrade election cybersecurity in 2018, responding to threats of voter manipulation on social media remains a quagmire for US leaders. The Cambridge Analytica case and Facebook investigations regarding data protection are part of a broad debate on the corporate exploitation of private data to manipulate human behavior on a national scale. Companies like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are revamping their attempts to stymie fake accounts and misinformation. Twitter has already shut down thousands of fake accounts looking to influence the US election from countries such as Russia and Iran, though many still question the effectiveness of current efforts to limit online manipulation.

Election security has raised significant concerns on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, disinformation attempts targeted the 2017 French elections. As part of Russia’s broad attempts to interfere in a high-stakes transatlantic campaign, hackers leaked the Macron campaign’s data in the days preceding the final vote.

However, compared to the US, France presents an arguably less vulnerable political and media environment, partially due to the French election structure and makeup of mainstream media sources. News of the presence of online manipulation during the American elections had become available before the French cycle took place, thereby giving the French government more time to prepare cybersecurity strategies to counteract misinformation about candidates. For example, the government created a cyber command of 2,600 “cyber fighters.” In response to growing public pressure on digital platforms, Facebook suspended 70,000 fake French accounts to counter disinformation.

As a result of the French cyber defense effort, Russia ultimately failed to sway the outcome, making the French election a potential model for transatlantic actors to resist malign foreign influence via cyber infrastructure, preparation, and mainstream media narratives.

On September 17-18, the sixth annual French-American Foundation Cyber Security Conference, titled “Emerging Cyber Space Challenges: From 5G Security Risks to Social Media Governance,” will assemble senior defense officials based in France and the US to discuss today’s most pressing cyber challenges. Experts will discuss ongoing debates regarding global cyber infrastructure and management of digital content. Learn more about the Cyber Security Conference.

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