Election Day is over, but government officials are still watching out for potential interference in the political process after detecting online disinformation that was meant to undermine yesterday’s midterms. Foreign adversaries will “continue to push misinformation” even after the election results are fully reported, a Department of Homeland Security official told reporters in a series of briefings on election security that lasted well into the night. While DHS made clear it did not detect any breaches that would affect the casting or counting of votes, the official expressed concerns that bad actors could create the perception that the election was not secure — or “enhancing or overstating” how successful hacking attempts were. “We’re talking about propaganda machines,” the official said, “that are trying to divide the American people and undermine their confidence in election systems.”
Officials and disinformation experts have long said that a hacking claim could damage trust in the U.S. election system just as much as a real breach. It’s imperative that voters perceive the U.S. election system is secure, they say, especially in the wake of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s campaign of hacking and fake news was designed to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
But with votes still being counted in some states, the DHS official said it was too early to tell if their efforts to reassure the American public the election’s integrity is intact will be effective. “I’m not sure we have a good way to gauge right now what the general public sentiment is right now on what transpired today from an election security standpoint,” the official said.
Officials underscored the department would still be engaged in assisting state officials by auditing votes, and coordinating with other agencies and state election administrators about potential cyberthreats or disinformation campaigns. But it was clear by their last call with reporters at midnight that they were starting to view Election Day 2018 as a victory. The DHS official said there have been no reported incidents “that would affect the ability to cast and count votes.” Though there were examples of instances of disinformation spreading on social media, companies such as Facebook appeared to be quick to take action against the bubbling campaigns that were reported throughout the day.