The biggest concern for election security isn’t about Election Day — it’s about the day after, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said. “My biggest concern is that a foreign entity will take the opportunity after the election, or the night of the election, to attempt to sow discord through social media by suggesting that something’s not working as it should in a particular area,” Nielsen said Friday morning at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York. The conversation with Nielsen about comes just four days before Election Day and amid major DHS efforts to protect the US elections from foreign interference. That includes assisting election officials in all 50 states, creating its own center toprotect critical infrastructure, and attending Defcon to learn about voting machine flaws. While DHS is working to protect the machines and make sure voting officials are prepared, it’s that wave of disinformation on social media that’ll follow the election that Nielsen’s most worried about.
To address that, she’s done exercises with election officials on the most legitimate ways to report results from races. But it’s not clear how effective that will be. While Homeland Security can provide protection for machines and prep voting officials, stopping lies from spreading on social media is an entirely different beast.
This type of nation-state propaganda happened during Election Day in 2016. NBC News reported, for example, that a Russian Twitter account amplified a video of a voting machine malfunctioning, showing a vote for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump.
While it was later revealed that the person behind the video was not using the machine correctly, Russia’s disinformation campaign made the video go viral through the @Ten GOP account, with more than 29,000 retweets, claiming there was voter fraud.