Wed. 2/21 – Elections and the battle for our hearts and minds.

Some people do this for the money.

A group of teenagers in Macedonia built a large network of sites spreading false information shortly before the 2016 election because making outrageous statements drove a lot of traffic to them, which translate to a lot of ad revenue.

Others do it for power.

(Washington Post) “…there’s direct political value in spreading misinformation. Setting aside the value that Trump himself sees in misrepresenting reality, there has been a deliberate effort to spread inaccurate information about political candidates and issues — Hillary Clinton, Brexit, etc. — to both shape public opinion and to make it harder to discern real from fake. If you see one article claiming that millions of people were caught voting illegally and another reporting (correctly) that there is no evidence at all of widespread voter fraud, the issue may seem as though it’s still being litigated.”

Most of us realize that still photos can be manipulated with tools like Photoshop. However, technology now allows motivated users to alter videos as well.

Ultimately, it’s our thoughts, opinions and core beliefs that are being Photoshopped and reshaped.

A person’s facial expressions can be altered in a video.
This can change anyone into a real-life marionette, seemingly saying words that are supplied by the video creator.

Fake videos can now be created using a target’s own voice.
This can make statements made in one context, appear in another place or time.

A person’s words can be altered or created using samples of their own voice.
You can make anybody say anything, as long as there are enough samples to work with, like from all the recorded speeches and interviews of a long-time public servant’s career…

These videos, and others, have been gathered together in a terrifying article (wapo) and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how these technologies can be used to influence elections.

Or already have.

“Findings from a 2017 study on the manipulation of public opinion through social media conducted by the Computational Propaganda Research Project at the Oxford Internet Institute found that the Kremlin is using pro-Russian bots to manipulate public discourse to a highly targeted audience. With a sample of nearly 1,300,000 tweets, researchers found that in the 2016 election’s 3 decisive States, propaganda constituted 40 percent of the sampled election-related tweets that went to Pennsylvanians, 34 percent to Michigan voters, and 30 percent to those in Wisconsin. In other swing States, the figure reached 42 percent in Missouri, 41 percent in Florida, 40 percent in North Carolina, 38 percent in Colorado, and 35 percent in Ohio….(Facebook) disclosed that between June 2015 and May 2017, Russian entities purchased $100,000 in political advertisements, publishing roughly 3,000 ads linked to fake accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency, a pro-Kremlin organization. ” (

#1 – Support the Honest Ads Act.

Action : Call your Rep. and Senators and ask them to support the Honest Ads Act (H.R. 4077, S.1989). The bill expands the realm of communications that fall under previous campaign reform acts from print, TV and radio to include digital and online platforms and requires those who purchase and publish such ads to disclose information about the advertisements to the public, and for other purposes. How-to-call information at bottom.

Minimal Script: I’m calling from [zip code] to ask Rep./Sen. [___]  to support the Honest Ads Act [H.R. 4077 if House, S. 1989 if Senate]. Holding online political ads to the same standard as ads published through other media is a critical first step in safeguarding our democracy and preventing foreign interference in elections.
(Click on the links in the script to see if your legislator already supports this. Senator Dianne Feinstein has already signed)

#2 – Support the DETER Act: Defend Our Elections from Foreign Interference

With the 2018 midterm elections only 9 months away, it is urgent that stronger security measures are put in place to protect the integrity of our elections from foreign interference. The DETER Act (Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act) (S. 2313/ HR 4884) will require monitoring, reporting, and imposing of severe penalties and sanctions on foreign governments that engage in actions interfering in our elections.

Action: Call your rep. (HR 4884) and both senators (S. 2313). How-to-call information at bottom.

Minimal Script: I’m calling from [zip code] to ask that Rep./Sen. [___]  co-sponsor the bipartisan DETER Act (HR 4884,S. 2313).

More info: 

  • Bi-partisans senators move to deter future election interference (theHill)
  • Russians penetrated US voter systems, says top US officials (nbc news)

#3 – Going old-school – remove the paperless voting machines 

A bipartisan group of six senators has introduced S2261 – the Secure Elections Act. This would take a huge step toward securing our elections by eliminating insecure paperless voting machines and promoting routine audits that would dramatically reduce the danger of interference from foreign governments.

Action: Call your senators. Thank Kamala Harris for her co-sponsorship. Tell Dianne Feinstein to join with her. How-to-call information at bottom.

Minimal Script: I’m calling from [zip code] to ask that Sen. [___]  co-sponsor the the Secure Elections Act. S2261.

More Info:

  • New bill could finally get rid of paperless voing machines (arstechnica)
  • How to hack an election in 7 minutes. (politico)
  • What kind of ballots are we using now…state-by-state listing (ballotpedia)
  • Election security in all 50 states (AmericanProgress)
  • We must act now to protect against Russian cyberattacks (loyal opposition)

#4 – Help a researcher collect political ads

“ProPublica reporter Julia Angwin is collecting political ads on Facebook, all across the country. Just in case someone needs to check on them later. Like if the Russians bought thousands of ads to sway an election. And she needs your help. She and her team built a browser plugin that collects ads from Facebook and asks users like you to decide if the ads are political or not. Ads marked as political are gathered into a giant database – the only repository of these ads available to the public.”  She could use your help. Link up with her and share your finds here.

#5 – Learn about how YouTube works and how it manipulates us.

We know social media helped to spread disinformation during the election. But YouTube has not been as much in focus. This eye-opening and deep piece should get our attention: “’YouTube is the most overlooked story of 2016,’ Zeynep Tufekci, a widely respected sociologist and technology critic, tweeted back in October. ‘Its search and recommender algorithms are misinformation engines.'” Read this well-researched article to understand better how YouTube works — and how we might be manipulated by it.

How to contact your legislators

Rep. Julia Brownley: (CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779

or Rep. Salud Carbajal: (CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348

Which one is yours?

Senator Feinstein: DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430

and Senator Harris: DC (202) 224-3553, LA (213) 894-5000, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 355-9041, SD (619) 239-3884

Other Rep./Senator Contacts:

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