August 28, 2023 – As social media platforms drastically scale back efforts to control the expanding threat of election disinformation, a new report from Common Cause takes a look at efforts to combat the rampant problem in 2022 and previews what to expect in 2024. “Under the Microscope: Election Disinformation in 2022 And What We Learned for 2024” examines the preparations and what we saw during the midterms and looks at how to apply lessons to the already unfolding race for the White House. And finally the reports points to existing and proposed legislation to help combat the growing threat to our democracy posed by election disinformation.
“Americans expect and deserve fair elections free from interference, but disinformation about voting and vote tallies is a very real and growing threat to our democracy,” said Common Cause Media & Democracy Program Director Ishan Mehta. “We have seen a precipitous growth in election disinformation since 2016 and over the same period we have witnessed a parallel drop in public trust in our elections and their results.”
Common Cause has been a leading voice in the fight to combat election disinformation on social media platforms since 2016 and the work continues today. That experience and the lessons learned are brought to bear in our ongoing work in the field and in the report released today which is the latest in a series on the growing problem of election disinformation.
“Election disinformation from bad actors, both foreign and domestic, has only grown as a threat since 2016 when Russian troll farms were deployed to impact the outcome of the presidential race,” said Common Cause Disinformation Analyst Emma Steiner. “But having seen the threat and the damage that stems from election disinformation, the social media giants have not doubled down on their efforts to control it. In fact those companies have irresponsibly curtailed their previously inadequate content moderation policies and practices. This is a trend that must not be allowed to continue.”
“The platforms have shown themselves unable or unwilling to take on this issue, and handwringing after the fact is not just insufficient, it is dangerous,” said Common Cause Vice President for Campaigns Jesse Littlewood. “It is time to take steps to regulate and combat this threat before these companies allow still more damage to be done to Americans’ faith in our elections.
The first section of the report, “The Lead-Up to 2022,” examines the financial incentives behind election denial that has seen activists and politicians raise vast amounts of money. It also takes a look at the outsized influence of social media platforms on our elections and how those companies have pulled back significantly from their originally inadequate efforts to stem the flow of election lies. The section also addresses the continued threat of political violence and intimidation as well as the information voids and news deserts that turn vulnerable populations into targets of opportunity for those spreading election disinformation.
The report’s second section, “Common Cause Education Fund’s Work in 2022,” digs into our work identifying, flagging, and removing election disinformation, proactively inoculating voters against disinformation, our expanded reach due to coordinating with partners from our Election Protection coalition, plus our work with journalists, and two case studies demonstrating successful interventions.
The final section, “Looking Ahead,” outlines what we are already seeing and what we expect during the highly-charged 2024 presidential election cycle. It looks at the role of election disinformation on the campaign trail, how tech platforms continue to retreat from enforcing their policies against disinformation, the remaining threat of political violence, how election disinformation fuels voter suppression through attacks on the voting process, and finally it examines legislative solutions.
To read the full report, click here.
To learn more about Common Cause’s Stopping Cyber Suppression Program, click here.
To read “As a Matter of Fact,” the 2021 Common Cause report on disinformation in the 2020 election and its aftermath, click here.
To read “Trending in the Wrong Direction,” our 2021 report on social media platforms’ declining enforcement of voting disinformation, click here.