The Lessons of Russian Meddling in 2016 Election Go Beyond Tech, Says ITIF

November 1, 2017

WASHINGTON—The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a leading science and tech policy think tank, today released the followed statement from ITIF Vice President Daniel Castro in response to congressional hearings on Russian meddling in the 2016 election:

At least two important truths have emerged from the hearings this week on Russian interference in U.S. elections. First, election laws should be technology neutral. Social media should be subject to similar rules as print and broadcast media. Second, most of the underlying problems are not technology issues—they are national security issues, election issues, campaign finance issues, and civic education issues. Nearly one year after the election, policymakers have done little to reform the underlying systemic failures that made such an attack feasible in 2016 and remain an issue today. By continuing on this path, we risk missing the opportunity to use the 2016 election as the catalyst to take the hard steps necessary to secure our democracy.

Russia decided to use social media to interfere in our elections, but it could have chosen other means as well. While technology did not cause the problem, technology can be part of the solution. The efforts announced by companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to improve advertising transparency are important first steps. However, more can be done to leverage technology to address the risk of foreign interference undermining the legitimacy of U.S. elections or even changing the results, from using artificial intelligence to automatically monitor and respond to digital propaganda to using next-generation voting systems that provide verifiable evidence of election integrity.

Moreover, it is clear that the United States has developed insufficient oversight, accountability, and coordination mechanisms to respond to foreign threats to its elections. Local election officials have the jurisdiction, but lack the mandate and capacity; federal law enforcement agencies have the capacity, but lack either the mandate or jurisdiction; and other federal agencies have the mandate, but lack either the capacity or jurisdiction. Addressing these structural issues should be the top priority.

Finally, citizens should be engaged directly in addressing the threat, and individuals must take some responsibility as well for their media consumption. Moving forward, educators should make media literacy an integral component of civic education and digital literacy so people are better able to tell the difference between real information and fake news.