Election officials say potential foreign interference includes hacking, social media misinformation

Illinois State Board of Elections
ISBE, along with all other states, has partnered with social media companies to be able to respond to misinformation in a matter of minutes and have it removed. (Photo courtesy: Illinois State Board of Elections/Facebook)

By Illinois Radio Network

SPRINGFIELD – With a contentious election less than a year away, Illinois elections officials are warning that foreign influence could not only include attempted hacking, but elaborate misinformation campaigns that they’re going to need help stopping.

President Donald Trump will be vying against the eventual victor of the spring Democratic Primary in November of 2020. In Illinois, the top billing will be a ballot initiative to change the state’s Constitution to allow for a progressive income tax.

Even though he said state and local elections network are under “constant threat,” Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich predicted a tidal wave of foreign misinformation on social media will become the prominent threat on Nov. 2, 2020.

“If the theme for 2018 for election authorities across the country was cybersecurity, the theme in 2020 is really going to be fighting social media misinformation,” he said.

ISBE has partnered with the National Association of State Election Directors and social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter to create a rapid response network that connects state and local election authorities with a technician at the social media companies. When a local source discovers what they see as foreign-originated election interference, Dietrich said they can have the propaganda flagged and removed in moments.

“We could get it taken down quickly, I would say, in a matter of minutes,” he said.

Facebook and others us key-word searches to filter out suspect content, but keyword searches are of little-to-no use when the misinformation is in a meme, or picture with words in it. For that, the state is going to have to rely on vigilant residents to tip them off.

They’ve set up scamalert@elections.il.gov as a way for residents who see social media misinformation to report it to the state.

“They can quickly report it to us and we can follow up,” Dietrich said.

The thin line social media companies must tread is when a user says something like “Don’t vote. They’re all a bunch of crooks,” something that would be considered free speech, but possibly a violation of the company’s user agreement.

Since Illinois’ election databases were compromised in July of 2016, the state has been at the forefront of data security, last year launching the Illinois Cybernavigator Program using a $13 million federal grant.

“It’s our way of making sure that none of the 108 local election authorities in Illinois ever go through what we went through as a state agency in July of 2016 when we actually were hacked by the Russians,” Dietrich said.

Illinois Radio Network can be reached at News@WJBC.com. 

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