Joe Biden is pledging to not take part in the spread of disinformation over social media in his campaign for president, including rejecting the use of deep fake videos, synthetic social media accounts and bot networks to attack opponents.
Those are among the tactics federal law enforcement found to be widespread in the 2016 presidential election.
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The former vice president’s pledge comes the same week that President Donald Trump said he would accept campaign assistance from a foreign power and that the FBI director was “wrong” to expect a campaign to report such an overture to law enforcement. And last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the target of an altered video that falsely showed her slurring her speech; experts expect such visual forgeries, which sometimes employ artificial intelligence, to grow only more prevalent in the run-up to 2020.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation concluded that Russia had driven false social media messaging in an attempt to manipulate the 2016 presidential election. And FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly warned that such meddling — both by foreign powers and domestically — is ongoing and expected to be part of the 2020 campaign.
Most Democratic presidential campaigns have already vowed not to use hacked or stolen materials and many campaigns have said they wouldn’t use deep fake videos.
But Biden’s pledge goes further in that it vows not to use bot networks to spread disinformation or attack opponents, or hire third parties or proxies to do it on their behalf. That’s significant because data scientists have said they’ve seen a sustained use of disinformation as a tactic in both the 2018 midterms and already in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Researchers tracking such activity have said that it’s difficult to trace whether foreign or domestic actors are behind it. An effort within the Democratic Party is asking campaigns to escalate the discussion of some type of non-aggression pact among 2020 candidates, in part to help discern the bad actors online.
“This is simple. American elections should be decided by the American people and not by Russian or any other foreign power,” Biden said in a prepared statement. “Donald Trump doesn’t think it matters if candidates accept damaging intel on their opponent from a foreign government. He’s dead wrong.”
The discussion comes as Democrats this weekend are to take up the issue in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a national meeting of the Association of State Democratic Chairs.
“I think it’s important that we understand that these bots are used to stir dissension within the Democratic party – not purposely by their campaigns but by those who wish to be disruptive, whether they are pro-Trump or just simply anti-one person or another who happens to be running,” said Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Buckley is preparing to introduce a resolution that is scheduled for a Saturday vote.
A copy of the resolution, provided to POLITICO, urges the Democratic National Committee to establish a new party-wide framework, to combat the use of “illicit campaign tactics” including preventing the use of disinformation tactics like fake social media accounts, fake websites, “bots, trolls, troll farms, deep fakes and any use of falsified images, video or audio.”
“We need have to everybody rowing in the same direction when it comes to the general election. We need to make sure our nominee’s victory is large enough that not Russia, not China, not any foreign power … can have any impact,” Buckley said. “We have to make sure that the margin is large enough that it can’t be tampered with.”
Earlier this year, POLITICO reported that a wide-ranging influence campaign was already underway on social media, including an effort to target those in the race for president. Data scientists and researchers have found that at least some of the activity already this year appeared consistent with tactics employed by Russia and other foreign powers in 2016, but that the methods had grown more insidious, including building a larger network of fake accounts around a real people to amplify desired messaging.