Warren Pushes Tech Industry to Step Up to Disinformation

(CN) — Four years into federal investigations and hearings spurred on by the foreign effort to influence U.S. elections, Senator Elizabeth Warren released a plan Wednesday calling on tech giants and the government to curb the spread of online disinformation.

“The stakes of this election are too high — we need to fight the spread of false information that disempowers voters and undermines democracy,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in a statement. “I’ll do my part — and I’m calling on my fellow candidates and big tech companies to do their part too.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a Jan. 20, 2020, campaign event in Grimes, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Warren’s latest policy proposal, released on her campaign website, includes calls to hold tech companies responsible for the dissemination of false and manipulation information by creating civil and criminal penalties for knowingly publishing disinformation about when and how to vote in U.S. elections.

Warren, who has advocated breaking up Facebook, fired a shot across the bow at the social media behemoth in October 2019 when she ran a paid political ad on the social network with the deliberately false headline, “Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for re-election,” daring the social network to take action on misinformation in political ads ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Earlier this month, Facebook restated its noninterventionist stance on political advertising, saying it will allow targeted political ads on its platform but will offer users the option to see fewer of them.

Facebook executive Rob Leathern noted in a blog post that 85% of spending by U.S. presidential candidates on Facebook went to targeted ad campaigns.

Under Warren’s campaign plan, if elected she would reinstate the position of cybersecurity coordinator at the National Security Council, which was eliminated by the Trump administration in May 2018.

Warren’s plan to stem online voter-suppression efforts cites a Brennan Center study of paid Facebook ads on the eve of the 2016 election targeted at nonwhite voters, urging them to “boycott the election” because neither of the presidential candidates would serve black voters. The ads came from the Internet Research Agency, an information campaign operation linked to the Kremlin.

Among evidence of voter-suppression efforts in the 2018 midterm elections, Brennan Center researchers have found tweets that encouraged people, anti-Trump voters in particular, to vote via text.

Warren says she would convene a summit of countries to enhance information sharing and coordinate international policy responses to disinformation, including the consideration additional sanctions against countries that engage in election interference through disinformation.

“My administration will encourage robust data sharing between tech companies and between those companies and the government so that disinformation can be quickly identified and addressed — while at the same time crafting those rules so that both the government and tech companies respect individual privacy,” her Wednesday post states.

“I will also push to institute a standard for public disclosure when the government identifies accounts conducting foreign interference so that Americans who have interacted with those accounts are notified,” she added.

In the case of Russian interference, Warren specifies additional penalties such as sanctions for financial institutions that supported interference, Russia’s cyber sector, and people in President Vladimir Putin’s orbit who supported and facilitated interference.

Warren pledged that her campaign will not “knowingly use or spread false or manipulated information, including false or manipulated news reports or doctored images, audio, and videos on social media” or promote content from fraudulent online accounts.

She also pledged that her campaign not knowingly allow staffers or surrogates to disseminate misinformation on social media.

Warren is polling third in national surveys and fourth in Iowa with less than a week to go before the state’s Feb. 3 caucuses.

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