All is quiet on both Russian-interference fronts, actually, but CNN understandably focuses on the potential pranksterism for today’s midterms. As of this morning, however, both the FBI and DHS have seen no “significant” issues to rattle confidence in the midterm election process:
Federal officials are monitoring for potential misinformation campaigns, including from foreign actors such as Russia, but have no “significant” incidents to report.
“The day is early,” a senior DHS official said.
“We continue to monitor what is going on across the country. Nothing significant to report at this point. … We have not seen to date any coordinated campaign certainly along the lines of 2016, but we are preparing as if there will be an event today.”
Via Reuters, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen confirmed it later in the afternoon:
“At this time, we have no indication of compromise to our nation’s election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts or distrust the ability to tally votes,” Nielsen told reporters.
At this point, however, it’s unclear what significant and malicious action could be taken by hostile intelligence services against the midterm elections. Any penetration of voting systems would have to have already occurred, and while there have been a few scattered reports of attempts, there has been no indication of systemic attacks, let alone successes. The elections are taking place in a widely distributed series of local systems rather than a singular national voting system, and most states still require paper or paper-trail balloting. It’s impossible to conduct a single-point-of-entry attack on US elections to change the overall outcome, especially in midterms.
That doesn’t mean nothing’s going on. Facebook booted 115 accounts last night as part of a suspected Russian-intel operation to post dumb dank memes, or something:
The social media giant said it had opened a probe into the accounts to determine if they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, an organization special counsel Robert Mueller named in a February indictment for allegedly attempting to sway U.S. public opinion. In a blog post, Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the company was tipped off to the Facebook and Instagram accounts, which operated in Russian, French and English, by law enforcement.
“Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly,” Gleicher wrote. “But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.”
The heads of U.S. intelligence and national security also issued a statement in the hours before polls opened, assuring the public that the Tuesday elections were secure, but urging Americans to remain vigilant to possible influence campaigns. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray said they had “no indication” that a foreign entity could “prevent voting, change vote counts, or disrupt the ability to tally votes.”
“But Americans should be aware that foreign actors — and Russia in particular — continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord,” the agency heads wrote. “They can do this by spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media, and through other tactics.”
Actual cyberattacks should worry federal and state officials, and our intelligence agencies should fight back hard against them. The Facebook front is … much less worrisome. Despite all of the hysteria after the 2016 election over Facebook page views on propaganda accounts, no one has ever — ever — proposed a correlative effect from Facebook posts to voting behavior, let alone a causative effect, even from legitimate political discussion and advertising.
So why do Russian trolls continue to exploit Facebook? The same reason people climb mountains — because it’s there, and also because it’s a cheap way to publish. RT America costs a lot of money, but putting together a Hillary-Clinton-armwrestling-Jesus meme probably costs a few bucks in labor, tops. One hundred fifteen social-media accounts provide a drop in the bucket of the information avalanche in this election, or maybe even a microscopic part of a drop. Most of the 2016 propaganda was so ridiculous that it was self-debunking or simply too ludicrous to take seriously too, and there’s no indication that this year’s crop of lame dank memes was of any higher caliber.
And if we’re worried about last-minute lies about political candidates, we should be scrutinizing the political candidates themselves far more than a handful of Facebook randos.
It’s good to remain vigilant, but let’s focus on the real threats and stop obsessing over the low-impact stuff. The important point to know is that Facebook pranksterism didn’t decide the 2016 election, and that our systems have improved security to the point where we can have confidence in the results this time, too … even if we don’t particularly care for them.
As for the other Russian-collusion front, Robert Mueller’s staying pretty quiet lately. Perhaps that will change tomorrow … or perhaps that won’t go much farther, either. But that has little to do with the midterms, either.