Local, state and federal officials are working to secure next week’s midterm elections, but there is one threat coming from Russia and other outside nations that is much harder to contain.
In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, investigators found Russian actors created fake bot accounts and weaponized social media to create division and spread misinformation.
That threat continues to this day.
“We’re on high alert about it,” said Matt Dietrich, public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Dietrich said the SBE is preparing for different scenarios.
“Are there fake Twitter accounts saying, ‘there are lines around the block at such and such polling place, don’t go vote’ or ‘polling places in a certain county will have to close at 5pm because of technical difficulties.’ How do we address that?”
In recent months, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which came under fire for not doing more to protect against the spread of false information, have removed hordes of Russian-linked accounts.
In October, Facebook unveiled a “war room” at their California headquarters, where a team of employees are solely dedicated to weeding out false news ahead of the midterms.
Studies have shown the trolls’ reach was widespread, weaponizing everything from race and immigration, the NFL anthem controversy, even the vaccine debate.
“(The Russians) didn’t really create the underlying anger,” said Jon Bambenek, VP of Security Research at ThreatStop. “We did that as a society, but they simply used that to pour more fuel on the fire.”
The State Board of Elections said it plans on monitoring social media on Election Day to debunk any misinformation on their own platforms.