Elections 2018: Is misinformation killing democracy? The enemy is us

We all create a bit of propaganda and misinformation everyday. Is it all that surprising we're so primed to fall for social networking misinformation campaigns?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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Is it really too late to save the 2018 midterm elections from misinformation, hacking, and propaganda campaigns? Perhaps. But like all cybersecurity issues combating these issues, it really starts with us as individuals.

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Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos outlined the moving misinformation parts on the Lawfare blog. His conclusion is that there have been so many missteps on thwarting outside interference with US elections that there's nothing you can do to fix the 2018 mid-term elections. If we get serious, 2020 may be better.

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Stamos recounts Microsoft's big reveal that it detected attacks from Russia. Facebook then followed up by noting 650 accounts were being used by Russian and Iranian groups to spread misinformation. The upshot is that the Russian playbook is being used by other countries and it's open season on attacking US democracy.

From there, Stamos spends a lot of time talking about what needs to happen to thwart attacks and misinformation. The latter part is what I doubt can be thwarted. Why? Social networks are built on misinformation. Hell, the internet was the place where no one knew you were a dog.

Here's what I mean. The average social network user willingly accepts some level of misinformation every day. Each of us doles out a bit of personal propaganda every day. Your Facebook life as you portray it is materially different than reality. You never look as good as your Instagram selfie in real life. And your kids aren't as special as you make them on Facebook. We're frauds. And you are the product on FaceFraudbook. Is it all that surprising that we can all be exploited? We are primed to be exploited.

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Now technology giants are serious about combating misinformation and cyberattacks, but ultimately, it comes down to us. Most security incidents -- phishing, social engineering, and otherwise -- come down to some gullible human. Algorithms can only do so much. These misinformation campaigns are no different. The difference here is that gullible people get to vote, too.

Toss in the echo chamber that social networks have enabled to scale, and it's clear people are going to believe all sorts of crazy things without a smidge of fact checking.

Add it up and I'm just as pessimistic about combating misinformation as Stamos for different reasons. The fix to these problems starts with us -- way more than some Federal agency, algorithms, and regulation.

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