As a Matter of Fact: The Harms Caused by Election Disinformation Report
In America, whatever our background, color, or zip code, we value our freedom. Generation after generation has fought for the freedom to have a say in decisions that impact our lives—the freedom to participate fully in our country. But in recent years, a small faction has grown increasingly skilled at spreading lies about our elections, lies that targeted Black communities and other communities of color to suppress their votes, lies that fueled a deadly attack on our Capitol in January 2021 to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, lies that threaten to suppress votes and undermine public confidence in future elections. This intentional use of false information to affect the participation of voters in elections is known as “election disinformation.”
The United States is at a critical juncture. More than 1 in 3 U.S. residents—and nearly 80% of Republicans— wrongly believe that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the election.
The United States is at a critical juncture. More than 1 in 3 U.S. residents—and nearly 80% of Republicans—wrongly believe that President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the election, and a majority say they “do not have confidence that elections reflect the will of the people.” Donald Trump’s Big Lie is working, and we have to respond. Just as we came together last year, rising up to vote safely and securely in record numbers during a global pandemic, we must now rise up to stop election disinformation efforts in future elections. This report is a game plan for success.
As online election disinformation has increased, Common Cause Education Fund’s commitment to monitoring and stopping it has likewise increased. As part of our plan to combat election disinformation, Common Cause Education Fund has prepared this report to explain the problem of election disinformation in detail and propose commonsense public and corporate policy reforms to reduce the harmful impacts of election disinformation in future elections. The report’s final section is a series of state, federal and corporate reforms to help stem the flow of election disinformation that is undermining Americans’ faith in the nation’s elections. Reform recommendations detailed in the report include the following:
- Social media companies must strengthen their policies around combating content designed to undermine our democracy, including by providing users with authoritative information regarding voting and elections, reducing the spread and amplification of election disinformation, and providing greater transparency concerning their content moderation policies and practices.
- Congress and state legislatures should amend voting rights laws to explicitly prohibit intentional dissemination of false information regarding the time, place, or manner of elections or the qualifications or restrictions on voter eligibility, with the intent to impede voting.
- Congress and state legislatures should update campaign finance disclosure laws for the digital age, to include “paid for by” disclaimers on digital advertising, and effective provisions shining a light on money transferred between groups to evade disclosure.
- Congress and state legislatures should pass comprehensive data privacy legislation to protect consumers from the abusive collection, use, and sharing of personal data.
- Congress should enact legislation strengthening local media and protecting public access to high-quality information about government, public safety, public health, economic development, and local culture.
- Congress should pass legislation to protect researchers’ and watchdog journalists’ access to social media data, enabling researchers to study social media platform practices without fear of interference or retaliation from social media companies.
- Congress should pass legislation to prohibit online platform discriminatory algorithms and to create greater transparency about how these algorithms operate.
- The White House and governors in states around the nation must play a leading role in combating election disinformation, including by issuing executive orders directing agencies with enforcement, rule-making, and investigatory authorities to use these capabilities in combating election disinformation.