We are in a unique time in history. Countries across the globe are trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought about hundreds of thousands of deaths and severe economic impacts. Many countries, and the United States in particular, are navigating an eruption of racial tensions and facing the structural, ingrained racism that leads to grossly disproportionate treatment of people of color. On top of this, the United States is bracing itself for what is likely to be a hard-fought, contentious election season. All of these events are ripe opportunities for disinformation.
The development of this U.S. Elections Disinformation Tabletop Package, now available at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, was born out of our concern that bad actors would capitalize on the strong emotions and chaos generated by current events to manipulate segments of the U.S. population into believing, acting on, and voting based on false information. We felt compelled to contribute to a solution in an active way, not merely by writing on the issue, but also creating a resource that our colleagues across government and industries could use to prepare themselves.
Research indicates that individual media literacy is one of the most important factors in combating the influence of disinformation on a population. As a complement to our work in that area, we chose to focus the scenarios herein on selected organizational actors due to the particularly significant role they play in shaping the public’s perception of truth and/or ensuring that the public receives accurate information on which to base their voting decisions.
It is our hope that the scenarios and discussion questions presented in this document will spur meaningful thoughts, honest conversations, and innovative ideas for collectively combating the effects of disinformation in general, and in relation to our elections in particular. We see immense value in the tabletop exercise approach, which at its core is collaborative and inclusive. Only by taking united efforts against the insidious impacts of disinformation can we as a country effectively protect our elections and, by extension, our democracy.