False Flags Everywhere
By Chris Painter
Nightmare Initial results indicate Joe Biden won the election, but the vote in several key swing states remains close. An orchestrated social media campaign — including what looked like posts by Chinese “patriotic” hackers — claim the Chinese government has hacked into the vote tabulation systems of key close precincts and altered the results in favor of Mr. Biden. After a few hours, the intelligence community determines the posts are not from China but from Russia, which used a “false flag” operation to shift blame and create a fake narrative. After a few days, the Department of Homeland Security determines that no claimed attempts to breach voting systems were successful. But the damage is done. With many Americans doubting the fairness of the election, and political attacks undermining the intelligence community, the election outcome is widely questioned. Though no results were altered, chaos reigns.
Solution In an ideal world, the United States would try to deter foreign intervention by warning that there would be significant and certain consequences — like economic penalties, cyber operations and the exposure of corruption — and then following through. But in reality, the country’s response has been inconsistent and undercut by President Trump’s confusing denials that interference ever took place, virtually guaranteeing that Russia and perhaps other countries will act this time around.
Faced with this reality, federal and state officials, as well as social media companies must publicly expose, as quickly as possible, any attempt at interference, regardless of candidate. Social media companies must not only swiftly flag and delete false content, but their platforms must minimize its spread and promote the truth. Additional funding should go to state and local election authorities to bolster the security of voting systems and to enhance communication to voters. Finally, while the government must try to deter any actual foreign interference, it should not undermine confidence in our voting systems. If voters lose trust in the legitimacy of our elections, the Russians and other malicious actors will have won.