When you enter the world of elections you quickly become aware that there is an acronym for nearly everything. Oftentimes, there are acronyms that crossover from one field to another. MDM is one of those acronyms. For the large majority of consumers, it means Mobile Device Management. However, for those of us in the election space, it doesn’t mean how to vote on your cell phone. Rather, it stands for mis- dis- and malinformation (MDM). I’ll define these terms, briefly discuss the issue and provide some guidance on how to navigate MDM, also known as fake news.
Before I go there, have you ever been accused of doing or saying something you never did or said? Or have you had your words twisted and taken out of context? Have you ever told a lie because you either didn’t want to bear the consequences, or you intentionally wanted to get someone else in trouble? The truth is, lies do damage! Now, I’m not talking about little white lies like whether or not you ate the last cookie in the cookie jar. I’m talking about lies that undermine the integrity of a person, a group of people, an organization, an institution or any governmental agency or system.
“When those lies(MDM) are believed, they can do considerable damage.“
That damage will spread as wide as the object of that lie reaches or influences, whether that’s a small community, a city, country or even the world.
MDM came to the forefront during the 2016 Presidential Election and took many of us by surprise. However, even when we knew better in 2020 & 2022, we were often still duped by wave after wave of fallacies in the election process. We’ve learned that the goal of those foreign actors was to sow distrust in our democracy. Well, they succeeded! However, and unfortunately, it’s not just foreign actors anymore; we are doing it to ourselves. The power of belief is stronger than some may want to give credence. And the strength of that belief is the same whether a truth or a lie is the object of that belief. Sadly, we are experiencing a negative belief about the election process that has proven to be unshakeable even when tangible proof is provided.
So, what is mis-, dis-, malinformation?
Misinformation = False but not shared or created with the intent of causing harm
Disinformation = False, inaccurate and created with the intent of causing harm
Malinformation = Based on real facts but taken out of context with the intent of causing harm
When MDM is present within our critical infrastructure, the potential for damage is greater, almost like pouring gasoline on a fire. Common MDM trends in the election sector are related to voting systems being connected to the internet, electronic voting system tabulation being less accurate than hand counting, votes being altered, or millions of deceased and noncitizen voters (ghost voters) participating in the election. Even in a strong conservative state like Wyoming, their voting systems do not have modems, they do not have the firmware, hardware, or additional software for modem functionality, yet there are repeated claims swirling around social media saying they have modems and are susceptible to interference and vote alterations.
MDM is only as effective as its reach, and the longer it takes to combat those lies with truth, the harder it is to convince or dispel the myth. Dissemination may have been a giant hurdle prior to the internet, but in this day and age there are many automated ways to disseminate disinformation such as “political bots” that utilize software to automate correspondence with other accounts on any and all social media platforms. With technology that can advance a message faster than a speeding bullet(sorry superman, you’re not the only one anymore), the battle against disinformation is and will always be ongoing. As it relates to elections, the public needs to know where to find factual information.
If you want advice on how to update the plumbing in your bathroom or to fix a leaky pipe, you call a plumber; if you want to know how to strengthen the muscles and tendons surrounding your knee as to prevent injury, you call a physical therapist or a doctor; if you want better performance out of your car, you call a mechanic – it only makes sense that if you have questions and concerns about elections, you should contact your local and state election office.
“Election administrators are the experts in their field! Not the mathematicians, or cybersecurity “experts”, or social media or even political figures in many cases”.
The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) has committed resources to this end for the last several election cycles. Their campaign is #trustedinfo2024. Click the link and help spread the word. We need to educate the public on where to find accurate information in hopes of reducing the MDM noise.
Sometimes you can find the information you’re looking for without picking up the phone. A common practice among Chief Election Officials across the country is dedicating a page on their website for dispelling common myths and misconceptions and providing the facts. A great example of this is the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE). They have a mythbusters page which they highlight in their ongoing social media blasts. Many of the myths they debunk are true across the board for elections generally. Browse your state elections office website – many local election offices have myth vs. fact pages as well.
An often overlooked piece to the puzzle of fighting MDM is having election documents readily available for the public when requested. To help squash the myth around voting system tabulation inaccuracies, have your logic and accuracy certifications, chain of custody logs and post election audit documentation readily available! These documents help support the conduct of the election, the accuracy of your machine tabulation and why your election results can and should be trusted.
In 2024, we have already seen an increase in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has advanced considerably since the 2020 Presidential Election.
” AI has certainly taken the internet and social media by storm.”
Though there is tremendous good that AI can be used for, there is the same opposite opportunity for equally damaging and bad use thereof. Prior to Executive Order 14110, “Safe, Secure & Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).” signed by the President on October 30, 2023, there was no oversight for the use of this technology. Under this Executive Order, “AI must be safe and secure.” The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published a Roadmap for Artificial Intelligence. This roadmap identifies the safe use of AI and establishes a framework to identify and protect against malicious use. Most recently, CISA released – Risk in Focus: Generative A.I. And The 2024 Election Cycle. Lastly, here’s one more link that summarizes key points in the EO and CISA’s role – Executive Order Key Points.
A couple of closing thoughts as we think about MDM. Dis and Malinformation is created with intent to cause harm. One way it can be identified is whether or not what you’re reading triggers an emotional response. When you read something that “if true” would cause a strong emotional response, that should raise your curiosity to fact check what you just read. Facts for the most part are boring, so if emotions are running high, do some research. If it’s a statement about what took place in the election, contact your local and/or state election administrator to verify.
What was ingrained in me as an election administrator was “consider the source.” Just because you read it or heard it doesn’t make it true.
“One of the best ways we can combat MDM and contribute to the solution is to stop spreading false information.”
Here are a couple tools that CISA provided to help identify MDM and thereby help stop the spread:
Finally, MDM is not going away. And with the growing use and sophistication of AI, we must be vigilant as citizens and not take the bait! Foreign and domestic bad actors will continue to leverage the power of MDM to accomplish their goals, whether personal, political or otherwise.
“We can all do our part by being informed by the right resources (local and state election offices) and better identify inauthentic content, so together we can dispel the lies and spread the truth about the strength of our election process across the country!”