Who is to blame for the cyber hacks, lies, and confusion plaguing U.S. politics?
The recent election cycle has been a whirlwind of accusations, rumors, hateful comments and fear mongering. As the country emerges from the polls with newly selected leaders, it is coming to the government’s attention that some of those accusations and rumors may have been deliberately planted to alter the election in some way. Though most of the information is highly classified, and there is no complete certainty about what the intent was, the FBI, CIA, DNI and NSA all agree that Russia was active in the elections.
One possible method of Russian involvement is through fake news. Now that the news world relies heavily on electronic media, and social media makes it possible for anyone to become a “reporter” with a blog or Facebook post, the stories and articles passed around are often opinionated or biased. However, some of them are completely fabricated. So-called facts about both presidential candidates were shared that demonized their campaign, party, goals, history and more, that were found to be completely false. These fake news stories have the potential to change a citizen’s vote, and to the average reader, it is difficult to tell the difference between what is credible and what is false. The confusion can lead to more consequences than just votes. In early December, a man fired an assault rifle in a Washington pizzeria after reading a false article involving Hillary Clinton that led him to believe children were in danger.
Fake news is not the only possible meddling technique. One of the major issues plaguing Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was the relentless and continuous discovery of more and more shocking information about her 30,000 deleted emails. Much of this information was released by Wikileaks. The topic is often connected to the Russian hacking of the DNC. While Wikileaks director Julian Assange denies all accusations that his information came from any government, many people believe that Russia was behind the email information release.
If foreign nations are contributing to this cyber chaos, steps should be taken to prevent them from doing so. Some believe the government should weed out and remove fake news stories from circulation. However, this comes dangerously close to violating first amendment rights. Even if other countries or non-US citizens are the ones being censored, America upholds the principles of free speech and freedom of thought, and it would be wrong to restrict that. Most of this fake news is spread through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter; it is not up to the government to decide what is acceptable to be posted on those forums. Consumers should be given the ability to decide what information they see and what sources they read from. It is, however, the responsibility of the creators and owners of the site to make their consumers aware of the possible dangers. In mid-December, Facebook announced new features to make it easier to report alleged fake news sites and more. These types of measures are exactly what is necessary, and what we need more of–reliant on the consumers, but assertive action nonetheless.
However, the government is not off the hook for fixing these issues. The national party committees can be held responsible for their own cyber defense, and social media can be allowed to regulate itself, but the root of the problem lies with the basic conflict between Russia and the United States. To protect its citizens, the United States government should be moving to discourage Russia, and other countries, from interfering at all. While affected organizations and corporations fight on the defensive lines, the government should be on the offensive to eliminate the issue altogether. Such measures look doubtful under the incoming Trump administration, but should be pursued.
At the end of the day, as a country, we are not stable or united. Our divisions make us easy targets, vulnerable to stories and information that makes us distrust our government or our fellow citizens. To be able to overcome these attacks, if they do exist, we need to do so together–hand in hand with other citizens, other political parties, and yes, our government.