Character Assassination: 2020 U.S. Presidential Election




About the Counter Threat Strategic Communications Team


CTG’s specialty Counter Threat Strategic Communications (CTSC) Team focuses on areas of Information Operations and Strategic Communications. CTSC has capabilities and experience in Misinformation, Disinformation and Propaganda detection, analysis, and advisory. The CTSC Team is composed of linguistically and culturally diverse analysts utilizing experiences and academic knowledge to ensure individuals, corporations, government, and non-state actors cannot jeopardize U.S strategic interests via Information Operations and the spread of misinformation and disinformation, particularly in the online environment. We hope that this report aids in the development of strategies to counter campaigns of misinformation and to better educate individuals to make decisions grounded in reliable evidence.


Context


The year 2020 for the United States of America marks a significant development in its primary governing entity. The month of November, namely, the third day, determines the course of America’s future and potential change in power. As a two-party system, the country bears witness to a division in the governing structure and political nature, which drives conflict between the supporters of each respective organization. With such staunch followers, the Democratic and Republican parties of America are often pitted against each other in a competition of sorts, jockeying for decision making authority to exact their visions for the United States.


The November 2020 Presidential Election is no exception to this, as individual investment aligned with a political purpose fosters numerous emotional reactions. The pressure for the Republican Party to keep their authority and the Democratic Party’s urgency to replace the present administration with their candidate becomes grounds for an abundance of misinformation. Much of which originates from individuals driven by anger, sadness, or deep-seated frustration at what the future could look like. Uncertainty of the Presidential Election outcome has caused many (from both parties) to take to news sharing sites or social media platforms to express their opinions, beliefs, and justifications. For many, this election has life-changing significance, and therefore, it is all the more imperative to proceed with wisdom and reliable evidence.


Identifying Origins


The origins of Presidential Election misinformation can largely be traced back to social media posts by individuals that are disillusioned with the country’s government or who possess a fundamental need to defend existing political figures. Misinformation may also arise from national leaders’ statements later taken out of context to reinforce an existing bias or preconception. As social media increasingly replaces experts and news outlets to inform the public of political, economic, and social developments, there are numerous opportunities for false statements. If widely received, such information can have far-reaching consequences and inform decisions/actions that fail to be grounded in reality.


However, even more pressing is misinformation at local, state, and federal levels, which may catalyze the propagation of false assertions further. False unverified claims may stem from individuals, organizations, and in some cases, even larger governing entities. An integral component in the rapid dissemination of such information is attributed to the internet’s encompassing reach. A digital space acts as a medium between numerous interconnected groups and shared perspectives in the cyber realm. A key concern that is not often at the forefront of one’s mind is the possibility of external influence on misinformation; meaning intentional interference from foreign actors (ie. Russia, Iran, etc). International threats as well as domestic interference with information can cause significant consequences in the democratic structure of the nation. Therefore the origins of election misinformation have become entangled between verbal statements, amended comments based on personal interpretation, and a far-reaching disinformation campaign that permeates the vast expanse of the globe.


CTSC Solutions and Recommendations


The Counter Threat Strategic Communications team recommends individuals maintain heightened levels of awareness as the date of the election approaches. Attempts will be made to subject individuals to disinformation or misinformation, particularly in the online environment. Recommendations are provided to ensure audiences are able to stay aware and proactively ensure they are not being subjected to such attempts. Further, a collection of tools aimed at increasing one's literacy, exposure and assistance in determining whether they are being targeted via misinformation and disinformation techniques is provided.


Tools and Further Resources that can help:


The following recommendations and tools provided are not exhaustive but rather serve as a starting point. Individuals should continue to actively seek information, research and improve their ability to detect if they are being subjected at misinformation and disinformation attempts.


Cross-referencing sources by reading more than one article or post about the topic to give a more clear understanding of the story. Reading articles about the same topic from different political media sources may show different perceptions, which allows for a more informed opinion on that topic. At times one political side will manipulate videos to paint a false narrative, while the other shows the full video.

  • Reverse image searches on google are another method of cross-referencing. Reverse image searches verify the real source of the photo and the original use of the photo. Google’s support page explains how users can conduct reverse image searches at the following link: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/1325808?co=GENIE.Platform%3DDesktop&hl=en&oco=0

  • When reading other articles about the topic, see if the story aligns with the previous, analyze the differences and see what new evidence is mentioned.

  • Checking for accuracy within articles; dates, spelling, author names listed on articles & posts. Some older articles will circulate many times and new information may exist that eliminates the relevance of the older articles.

  • Check for misspellings in the URL, headline/title, within the article this may be clues it is a fake website trying to mimic a real one eg. www.fo.xnews.net

  • Check if the post, article or story has an author. This is a sign that it has been fabricated to manipulate readers.

  • Read past the headline, headlines are created to catch peoples’ attention and at times are misleading or entirely false. Within the article or post will often disprove what the headline is saying or not even be relevant to the headline.

  • Searching for evidence within the articles and posts, look for links or photo evidence within to their claims. Articles often will claim evidence but do not present the evidence, simply making their claims likely to be manipulation or false.

  • If the article claims to have “anonymous sources” do not assume it is true, look for evidence to support their claims. Anonymous sources do exist, but usually this is a pretense made to sway the reader.

  • Be wary of articles with outlandish claims, without evidence, during election year. Many formats of media are used to target the opposition political candidates in attempts to sway voters.

  • Be wary of information posted from blogs and opinion pieces. These are very biased writings and even if they have evidence they may manipulate the evidence within. If an article references a study, then read the study not the article.


During election years within the U.S. it will be difficult to keep up with many accusations about political candidates. Character assassination is a common method of disinformation spread to the general public. Instead of talking about policies, solutions to issues, or bringing the nation together candidates will revert to various methods of demoralizing and discrediting the opposition.


  • Demoralization is successful when voters feel less inclined to vote because “it is not worth their time.” This can happen by attacking a political candidate's “chances” at winning or by utilizing polls to “strengthen” their chances.

  • The utilization of polls to encourage or discourage voters from participating in elections is a common method of demoralization. Depending on which side you are on you will either be encouraged or discouraged. Polls are not always accurate, so research how many participated in the poll, the locations of participants and their political background.


Utilize tools that are available to learn and assist in ensuring you are not subjected to attempts of misinformation or disinformation. Tools can include but are not limited to:

  • Bad News assists users in understanding some of the techniques that may be deployed by those taking part in the dissemination of disinformation. Structured as a game it exposes players to fake news tactics that may be used against them

  • Bot Sentinel is a tool used to help in the fight against disinformation and targeted harassment. Bot Sentinel displays information of Twitter accounts so users have an understanding of these accounts operates and what their motive may be

  • Captain Fact assists in the verification of internet content

  • Claim Buster is a live fact-checking that was developed by the University of Texas at Arlington to identify factual and false information

  • Facebook Political Ad Observer extension shows Facebook users the advertisements on their feeds and guesses which are political whilst highlighting political advertisements that may be aimed at others

  • Fakey is an interactive tool designed to provide experience identifying false and true information so users can improve their media literacy

  • Metapicz focuses on providing verification on the information such as source, timestamp and creation of images

  • Politifact is an interactive website that fact-checks content such as statements and provides a rating so that users are better equipped at making judgments

  • Who Targets Me allows users to create anonymous profiles and collect information on the political ads they see along with information about why these ads were targeting them. This also for users to gain deeper understanding of who or what has been targeting them


To get a full copy of the report please contact us at info@counterterrorismgroup.com

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