The Brookings Institution Governance has teamed up with Howard University to study how disinformation campaigns can impact Black communities and other disenfranchised groups. Through their work, Dr. Keesha Middlemass found that many Black voters received robocalls dispersing false information regarding the voting process.
“If you have a mail-in ballot, your information will be used to collect back child support that’s in arrears, or if you vote by mail, the government will use that information to get you on an old warrant,” Dr. Middlemass said regarding the different robocalls, social media posts and various materials distributed by disinformation campaigns.
As researchers dug further, they found that many disinformation campaigns worked hardest in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.
“No single group of Americans was targeted by Internet Research Agency information operatives more than African Americans," a 2016 Senate Intelligence Committee report regarding voter disinformation campaigns stated.
Unfortunately, targeting voters in a small area of a key state can adversely impact the upcoming election. As many experts project outcomes, the presidential election will seemingly be determined by less than 10 states.
“We know from 2016 you shave off 1% or 2% in a few communities, and that can literally change the outcome of an election,” Dr. Middlemass said.
Luckily, voters can fight against these disinformation campaigns by simply blocking numbers or unfollowing suspicious accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Often times, voters are influenced by fake accounts or bots. In fact, researchers found that nearly one in five tweets related to the 2016 election cycle came from a bot.
“These are programmed mechanisms that look at the different information that is tweeted out, the language that you use, scouring through your posts, and then replicates it," Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad of Howard University said.
“Go through your list of followers and you will identify at least 20 to 30 bots that are following and are posting."
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