Analyzing Election Disinformation Efforts

A poll worker casts a mail-in ballot for a voter at a drive-thru polling station during the primary election amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Miami, Florida, August 18, 2020, photo by Marco Bello/Reuters

A poll worker casts a mail-in ballot for a voter at a drive-thru polling station during the primary election amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Miami, Florida

Photo by Marco Bello/Reuters

Foreign interference in U.S. politics has been a concern since the nation was founded.

Concerns over foreign influence in U.S. politics date back to the founding of this country. Alexander Hamilton warned about "the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils." George Washington's farewell speech cautioned that "foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union operated a sophisticated program involving covert and overt information efforts against the United States.

More recently, the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence presented evidence that Russia directed activities against state and local election infrastructures and tried to spread disinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential election.

Given these past and likely extant threats to U.S. elections, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services asked the RAND Corporation's National Security Research Division to help them analyze, forecast, and mitigate threats by foreign actors targeting local, state, and national elections.

What This Series Covers

  1. Part 1 Reviews what existing research tells us about information efforts by foreign actors
  2. Part 2 Identifies potential information exploits in social media
  3. Part 3 Assesses interventions to defend against exploits
  4. Part 4 Explores people's views on falsehoods

Final Reports

  • How Russia Targets U.S. Elections

    In this campaign season, Russia might try to manipulate U.S. voters through social media as it did in 2016. New technologies have made these efforts easier. Russia's tactics aim to polarize Americans, create distrust, and paralyze the political process. What is the best defense against them?

  • Foreign Actors Are Again Using Twitter to Interfere with the U.S. Election

    After the 2016 U.S. election it became clear that Russian agents had engaged in online efforts to sow chaos and inflame partisan divides among Americans. Interference is happening again now. It includes posts from trolls—fake personas spreading hyper-partisan themes—and superconnectors designed to spread messages quickly.

  • Facebook Users May Spread Russian Propaganda Less Often If They Know Its Source

    Russian propaganda is hitting its mark on social media, generating strong partisan reactions that help intensify political divisions. But Facebook users are less apt to press the like button on content when they learn that it is part of a foreign propaganda campaign.

  • PSAs Might Prevent Foreign Disinformation from Taking Hold

    Tests with focus groups suggest that Americans are vulnerable to Russian-made memes. The participants responded positively to a public service announcement about foreign election interference, especially after they learned that they had just viewed content from Russia designed to breed dissension.

In Brief

Marek N. Posard discusses findings from the project's first report. He describes several broad risks of foreign interference in American democracy and explains how Russia may use reflexive control theory to cause disruption in the 2020 U.S. Election.