National: Trolls could turn to cyber to disrupt the 2020 census | Amanda Seitz and Rachel Lerman/Fifth Domain
Worried about internet trolls and foreign powers spreading false news, census officials are preparing to battle misinformation campaigns for the first time in the count’s 230-year history. The stakes are huge. Who participates in the 2020 census count could influence how U.S. congressional seats and billions of federal tax dollars to educate children, help low-income families and pave new roads are divvied up. “It’s a fine target,” former U.S. Census Bureau director John Thompson said of the form, which is sent every decade to households in America to count the population. “If you want to disrupt a democracy, you can certainly go about it by disrupting a census.” Already, false and inaccurate social media posts about the census have begun to appear online, where they have been viewed thousands of times. Foremost on everyone’s mind are the misinformation wars waged during the last presidential election to confuse U.S. voters. Fake posts about the census began popping up days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Trump administration could not ask about citizenship status on the 2020 census: Conservative bloggers, Twitter users and pundits falsely blamed former President Barack Obama for scrubbing the question from the form in 2010. In fact, the main census form hasn’t included a citizenship question since 1950, and the bureau’s own analysis found it would discourage people from participating, possibly skewing results.