Wilson: Misinformation cannot be a partisan issue

Peter Wilson, Staff Columnist

Social media is one of the most important aspects of today’s society. It brings people from all around the world together and keeps people connected in ways that would never have been thought of 100 years ago. However, it has also become one of the biggest detriments to national sovereignty, especially in the United States.

In our country, not nearly enough is being done to combat these challenges to national sovereignty.

As many will remember, shortly before and immediately after the U.S. presidential election of 2016, it came out that the U.S. government believed foreign actors had launched massive misinformation campaigns throughout the electoral process to influence its outcome. These foreign actors are now mostly considered to be Russian.

These attempts to misinform were launched on various social media platforms, specifically on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Often, the avenue for misinformation was the creation of fake accounts which posted a variety of propaganda. This propaganda was intended to push undecided voters toward a particular candidate and often had religious or nationalistic undertones. This type of campaign by actors outside of the U.S. is a clear violation of the United States’ sovereignty and should be treated as such.

Of course, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has publicly denied all allegations against his state. Presidents Donald Trump and Putin met in person earlier this year and supposedly spoke of the allegations. Again, Putin supposedly denied any misinformation, which satisfied Trump, who, at the time, had been trying to strengthen relations with Russia.

Up until this point, little progress has been made to combat future violations of sovereignty in this matter. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, testified before the Senate that his company would more closely monitor campaigns of this type and try to ban more propaganda profiles. Twitter has also made similar promises, and both platforms have banned many accounts.

Another action taken by the U.S. government was to have Special Counsel Robert Mueller launch an investigation into interference of the 2016 presidential election. Up until this point, the Mueller investigation has been fruitful, but the focus of the investigation has generally shifted toward a focus on Trump’s campaign and its possible dealings with Russia. Several indictments—and guilty pleas—have come out of the investigation, but the investigation appears to be having little effect on deterring election interference in the future.

Just last week, the U.S. Justice Department and intelligence officials released statements warning U.S. citizens that many foreign actors have been attempting to interfere in next month’s midterm election. Some of these actors include Russia, China and Iran; all countries which don’t hold the U.S. in very high regard and would most likely benefit from internal American political conflict. These efforts appear to be even more intense than in 2016, according to the statements from last week.

The United States government has, thus far, done little to halt these campaigns for next month’s election and for elections in the future. Mueller’s investigation has been good, but it simply isn’t enough at this point, especially since so much distrust has been cast upon it by the president. Actual, substantive legislation dealing with stricter monitoring and banning of fake propaganda accounts is required to regulate these social media giants. The work they have done thus far is admirable, but legislation is required. The legislation would be a stronger push for these platforms to really try to halt the misinformation campaigns.

Furthermore, more must be done by the U.S. intelligence agencies and the Justice Department to discover more physical interference (such as hacking campaigns into election departments and tampering with ballots) and to combat them. Additionally, the public must be made more aware of these efforts, as public awareness alone would be effective in combating deception. This should not be a partisan issue as it currently stands; this should be an American issue, and we as Americans must do everything we can to combat it.

Misinformation campaigns and election interference are two of the most critical issues of today. Little substantive remedy has been enacted, and much more is required. The American people need to transcend partisanship in this instance and fight for a free America, safe from interference by its enemies.

Peter Wilson is a second-year biomedical engineering student on the biomaterials track. He works in the Gustafson Lab and can be found on Twitter at @wpieltseorn.