Alumni Impact Fund 2020: Winning Project

Thanks to all who supported the 2020 Alumni Impact Fund campaign. The following project has been selected to receive Alumni Impact Fund support.

Mitigating the National Security Risks of Truth Decay

Laptop depicting Russian propaganda on Facebook with a bullseye mark, images by guteksk7, iiierlok_xolms, carmelod, and FishPouch/Adobe Stock

Illustration made from images by guteksk7, iiierlok_xolms, carmelod, and FishPouch/Adobe Stock

The United States confronted a multitude of challenges in 2020—a health care crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic recession, unrest over racial injustice, and a contentious presidential election. RAND research for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services on election security and disinformation found that these and other U.S. domestic problems may create national security vulnerabilities. The research highlights how the consequences of Truth Decay (the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, alienation and disengagement, and uncertainty) may present tactical opportunities for foreign adversaries to exploit our domestic tensions.

With Alumni Impact Fund support, Marek N. Posard, Todd C. Helmus, William Marcellino, and James V. Marrone propose a series of engagement opportunities and events, including a joint virtual event with the National Press Foundation and an interactive web-based game, to reach two key constituencies—the media and the public. The web-based game would use examples from the research and allow social media users to test how well they can identify Russian propaganda memes and other falsehoods, receive an accuracy score, and have the option to share their results with others in their social network to start conversations about online disinformation more broadly. This game would also collect data on participants (with their consent) to further understand how people react to falsehoods from foreign adversaries. The researchers aim to help people better understand how their personal experiences and views are connected to broader public problems. The funding will help them widely share recommended interventions, including ways the media can help prevent foreign adversaries from manipulating U.S. public discourse to advance their own foreign policy goals.