From deepfakes to social media provocations. How technology affects voter decisions

Gone are the days when influencing the voter included a candidate’s speech, direct mail, television ad or brochure. Today the forces that influence the electorate are much more complex and widespread. They are fueled by cybersecurity and militant threats, conspiracy sites, digital counterfeits, and propaganda-rich social media. All this affects the fickle human mind, the choice that a person makes when he lowers the ballot. We will tell you what the voter is exposed to today and how IT giants are trying to cope with the situation.

Obstacles for voters

According to experts at the University of Southern California, during the presidential elections in the United States, it is not so easy to get to the polls to vote. Foreign agents, bots, inaccurate tweets and White House attacks on the legitimacy of elections can simply confuse voters.

Everyone remembers how incumbent President Donald Trump said on July 30 that it would be better to postpone the presidential elections in the country altogether, so as not to resort to voting by mail in connection with the threat of COVID-19. He tweeted that a general vote by mail in 2020 could lead to the most inaccurate and fraudulent elections in history.

Later, Facebook launched a new campaign to help Americans register to vote and encourage people to vote in the US presidential election.

The press release reported that users of social networks Facebook, Instagram and Messenger received information on how they can register to vote. A special link posted on social networks redirects users to the online registration page.

Additionally, Facebook has launched a dedicated hashtag #PledgeToVoteChallenge (challenge: promise to vote). Using it, people can show that they are willing to vote in elections and “encourage their friends and family to do the same.”

“We estimate that this year we have helped over 2.5 million people sign up through Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. This is a promising start, but there is still a lot of work ahead, ”the company said in a statement.

It is also worth remembering the creation of the Platform’s Voter Information Center, a voting information center with deadlines and instructions on how to vote by mail, and other relevant details, which Zuckerberg announced in August. The information block will be at the top of Facebook and Instagram “almost every day before the elections.” Initially, the information panel was available in the menu, but not particularly invisible.

Perhaps these efforts are simply not enough.

Previously, Sinan Aral, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the forthcoming book Hype Machine. How social media is interfering with our elections, our economy and our health – and how we must adapt, ”explained that Facebook needs to make more fundamental changes than creating info centers and blocking political ads before elections are part of the platform’s new policy that Zuckerberg is personally about told on his blog in early September.

Downgrading fake news in search results and limiting their re-distribution is what can help. “All of these actions constitute a much more systematic approach, which is not based on what you are going to do the week before the elections, or what you are going to do with a narrow category of political advertising,” – said the professor.

What makes the 2020 election unique?

The risk of COVID-19 in the United States, where more than 2.6 million people are currently infected with coronavirus infections, keeps people from going to polling stations, as the Spanish flu did in elections a century ago. And the president’s statements that mail-order voting is a way to deceive the electorate does not help much to achieve high voter turnout.

However, it is the widespread use of mail-order ballots that makes this year’s election truly unique, USC experts believe.

“There are silts at work today to dissuade people from voting by questioning the integrity of the elections and claiming that the system is broken,” explains Christina Bellantoni, professor at the School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California and director of the Annenberg Media Center.

Cyberattacks may target 2020 elections

In addition, there are dangers and cyberattacks that can reach voters via email and telephone. False information resulting from such attacks misleads people about polling places or mailing times by creating long lines at polling stations or shutting down polls in targeted communities.

Clifford Neumann, a scientist at the Institute of Information Science and the Computer Science Department of the School of Engineering at the University of California at Viterbi, said the US electoral process is particularly vulnerable to manipulation due to the convergence of computer addiction, polarized politics, and protection of free speech.

Computers are used throughout the electoral process, and cyberattacks will target all aspects of this year’s elections. Computers are used for voter registration, receiving political contributions, conducting vote-casting events, and virtually any campaign communication. Election journalists use computers to gather information and publish their stories. Social media provides a medium for the dissemination of information and misinformation, as well as the information needed to target messages to like-minded segments of citizens.


Neumann spoke about cyberthreats and attacks for the USC Cybersecurity Election Initiative, a series of Google-sponsored workshops that raise cybersecurity awareness among election and campaign officials.

He said paper ballots are critical this year as cyber attacks on electoral systems increase. “Opponents of the United States can manipulate the election by hitting the recording and counting infrastructure,” he said. “This threat is very disturbing.”

Disinformation technology has never been so easy to influence voters.

New and surprisingly easy to make deepfakes are increasingly common. These fraudulent but compelling videos can be created in a few hours on a $ 2,000 computer by a competent programmer and posted on social media, said Wael Abdalmagid, a professor at the University of California at Viterbi and the Institute of Information Sciences. He added that USC has developed state-of-the-art disinformation detection technology that can detect over 96% of fraudulent videos in near real time.

Deepfakes are powerful. They pose a significant and growing risk to elections and democracy. There is so much visual manipulation now that the very concept of “seeing” is believing “no longer works. Deepfakes are dangerous and can affect elections.


The peculiarities of the human mind make people especially vulnerable to manipulation; this explains the increase in attempts to manipulate the latest elections.

“We humans have little ability to tell the truth from lies,” said Norbert Schwartz, vice rector of psychology and marketing at the USC Dornsife College of Literature, Arts and Science. “People are convinced by messages that are simple, easy to handle and enjoyable. The more attention and effort is required to process information, the more people are looking for something simpler to arrange a message. That which is easy to handle becomes the confidant of truth. “

Schwartz noted that the proliferation and fragmentation of media sources floods the information field with so many messages that it can be difficult to sort through. We are much more vulnerable to disinformation than we used to be.

Changes in the media confuse people

Indeed, many do not trust the media, in part because some journalists are leaning towards opinion on their social media more than ever before. Television networks or newspapers were used to provide the general narrative upon which the American political consensus was built.

Bellantoni said the fake news could affect voters, such as a viral video on social media that says guerrilla postal workers can destroy ballots that indicate someone’s voter registration on the envelope.

Based on materials from Hi-tech. Author Anastasia Nikiforova

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