From Consensus to Conflict
Oct 1, 2020
This report, the fourth in a series on election threats, describes research from focus groups and individual interviews on responses to memes sourced in Russia that were designed to breed dissension and to a public service announcement warning about such online manipulation. It then outlines a strategy to counter such interference that involves coordinating with social media companies and releasing simple PSAs for use during election cycles.
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This report is the fourth in a four-part series aimed at helping policymakers and the public understand—and mitigate—the threat of online foreign interference in national, state, and local elections. During future U.S. political campaigns, Russia might try again to manipulate and divide U.S. voters via social media. Given the past and likely extant threats to U.S. elections, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services asked for research to help analyze, forecast, and mitigate threats by foreign actors targeting local, state, and national elections.
This report first describes research from focus groups and individual interviews on how people respond to memes sourced in Russia that were designed to breed dissension and to a public service announcement (PSA) warning about such online manipulation, then outlines a strategy to counter foreign interference in U.S. elections. The authors posit that adversaries are trying to exploit fault lines that already exist within U.S. society. These efforts could be effectively countered by collecting open-source intelligence on social media; releasing a simple, well-designed PSA for use during election cycles that warns the public about strategic threats targeting U.S. elections; and coordinating with social media companies to flag the source of foreign political content.
Background and Methods
Focus Groups of Partisans and Independents
Conclusion and Recommendations
Focus Group and Interview Guide
Response Rates for Focus Groups and Interviews
This research was sponsored by Cal OES and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).
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