Overwhelming evidence not only from U.S. national security agencies but also from the security chiefs of Tech giants conveys the same information – that Russia influenced the 2016 U.S Presidential election by spreading propaganda on various social networking websites. The propaganda was targeted to undermine the capabilities of then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, which, experts believe, swayed voters in key states towards the favor of current president Donald Trump. In a congressional hearing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the company “didn’t do enough” during the election to curb Russian meddling and the spread of misinformation.
The 2018 Midterm elections, due to occur on 6th November, is an equally vital process – one that assigns state representatives a seat in Congress. This year, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate are up for grabs. Democrats wish to regain control of both the House and Senate through this election, which would give them the authority to reject Trump’s impulsive executive orders. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has warned his supporters that Republicans losing control of Congress would equal “Open Borders” and “Crimes”.
With a lot at stake, the question that’s on everyone’s mind is: Is there evidence that Russia is influencing the 2018 Midterm elections as well?
According to Microsoft, Russians have already started attacking US political groups ahead of the midterm elections. They state that a hacking group linked to the Russian government has developed fake websites that imitated two American conservative organizations, the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute, and the U.S. Senate. Unlike previous hacks that supported Trump, the recent ones were devoted to undermining U.S. democracy as a whole.
Meanwhile, Facebook has launched a “pilot” program of new security tools that aid political campaigns. The program targets campaigns that are “vulnerable to be targeted by hackers and foreign adversaries’. Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said that “Once campaigns enroll on the pilot program, Facebook can help them adopt stronger security protocols like ‘two-factor authentication’ and monitor them for potential hacking threats”.
However, Alex Stamos, former Facebook security chief has mentioned that Facebook’s ‘pilot” program has been launched too late and that the damage has already been done. Instead, he proposed certain changes on various fronts that can help 2020 Presidential elections be meddle-free. Those included a new set of laws by Congress to address online disinformation, a more rapid response to investigate attacks, a reassessment of cyber security defense, and re-enforcing statewide election security teams.
Meanwhile, many Americans are wary of the use of electronic ballots in the voting system. After his win in 2016, Donald Trump famously instilled the idea into the heads of many of his supporters that a large number of voters cast their votes illegally. With such rhetoric running around, it’s hard for the system to change to paper ballots. At the same time, electronic ballots are prone to be hacked and modified with greater ease.
While America’s adversaries continue to attack U.S. democracy using American technologies, the time has come for Tech companies to strengthen their security protocols. While Twitter and Facebook have devoted a large workforce to remove bots and fake propaganda from its social media platform, Americans are wary that it still might not be enough to thwart Russia’s influence to undermine western democracy.