The CyberDefenses cyber intelligence team is already seeing evidence of misinformation and disinformation campaigns leading into this year’s election. Sadly, 2020 has proven to be a year that is giving threat actors plenty of material to exploit as they seek to spread fear and confusion among voters.
Effective citizen communication has never been more important than it is now as November approaches. Threat actors are hard at work crafting sophisticated and well-planned disinformation and misinformation campaigns that manipulate public thinking to push self-serving agendas and disrupt the democratic system we’ve invested so heavily into creating and upholding over the past few centuries.
The 2020 Election Brings Uncharted Territory
This election is shaping up to be a vastly different election than any the United States has experienced before. Between the health concerns brought on by COVID-19 and the mobilization of groups with extreme agendas, each voter will need to take an active role in educating themselves. Everyone will need to diligently seek out truthful information about every part of the voting process, from understanding candidate platforms to knowing where and how to vote.
We’re facing an unprecedented need to take a proactive, all hands-on approach to combat the serious issues of election interference and voter suppression. If we wait to react to false information after it hits news and social media feeds, we run the risk of never being able to overcome the damage already done.
Election teams are in a position to make a positive difference by launching aggressive communications campaigns that can guide voters to accurate information. While every election department may not be able to realistically hire a public relations director to run and manage these campaigns, election leaders and election staff members can follow the best practices that communications professionals use to keep factual information flowing in the right ways to the right audiences.
Communication Best Practices Election Teams Can Start Using Now
Establish a Single Communications Hub
Create one central place where voters can go to find all information related to the election. A section of the county or municipal website typically works well for this purpose. Consider including links to other thoroughly vetted resources if needed. If you have someone on staff who can answer questions, it may be a good idea to set up an email alias where people can send in questions, for example firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure you share any important information, including polling locations and voting results, on this website ONLY. Any other channel you are using to communicate with voters, such as social media channels, should point voters to this website instead of sharing the information. Encourage the media to also point voters to this website for the most up-to-date and accurate information.
Aggressively Publicize Your Single Communications Hub
Make sure your voters know that you have one single place where you are publishing and sharing all information. Consider launching a wide-scale campaign using multiple communications channels to inform voters that there is only one source for accurate and up-to-date voting process information. Direct everyone to this website for voter registration instructions, polling location information and voting results.
A well-coordinated campaign takes advantage of all possible communications channels. Plan to run a message directing everyone to your website and promoting it as the one true source of information using:
Facebook Ads and Posts
Twitter Ads and Tweets
Instagram Ads and Posts
Billboards in High Traffic Areas in Your Community
Ads in Local Newspapers
Public Service Announcements on Local Radio Programs
Public Service Announcements on Local News Programs
Keep the Message Simple
The best messages are simple messages. Develop campaign messaging that is short and catchy. Use the same messaging consistently across all of your communications channels. Remember that people are inundated with ads, messages and information. Make sure that your message gets noticed above the noise by communicating the same message often.
Address Issues Transparently and As Soon As Possible
If you experience any issues, address them as early as you possibly can by posting updates to your single communications hub. State the problem factually and then explain the solution and what is being done to address the challenge. In addition to encouraging your audience to look to your website as their main source of information, this will also go a long way toward maintaining trust in the election process. Trust will be a critical element in the upcoming election because many nefarious groups are focused on seeding doubt to undermine the process.
Secure Your Website
As it becomes known that your website is your main communications hub, it could become a target. Be sure that your site has the most up-to-date security tools installed and running as they should. If you have not already, implement multifactor authentication for your web administrators and anyone who will be accessing your website to post information.
Use a website access monitoring tool and check the logs often. You can blacklist any IP addresses that demonstrate suspicious activity, such as an abnormally high volume of visits or any attempts to access your backend administration accounts.
This list is certainly not an exhaustive one. There are more things that election teams can do to proactively combat disinformation and misinformation campaigns, but at least these basic best practice steps will help give you a firm foundation.