How you can help stop the spread of voting disinformation online

Voting disinformation and how to avoid it

ATLANTA — It’s a dicey subject but one that has been widely talked about in the run up to this years election.

With all the calls, flyers, mail and social media posts about voting, how can you sort out what is real and what isn’t?

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It’s a challenge not only for voters, but those whose job it is to find that “disinformation” and investigate it along with the social media companies and other sources used to spread the false information. National security investigators say some of it is coming from foreign countries trying to sow confusion.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Justin Gray spoke with Willis McDonald, a cybersecurity expert in Georgia, who says the tools countries like Russia, Iran and China are using to spread disinformation have gotten much more effective.

“I’d say it’s a lot harder now to separate fact from fiction compared to four years ago,” said McDonald.

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Wednesday, the U.S Senate held a virtual hearing with the CEO’s of Facebook, Google and Twitter about false stories. Senators asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg what his company is doing to stop the spread of this info.

“A lot of this involves building up A.I. systems to identify when clusters of accounts are not behaving in the way a normal person would. They’re behaving as fake accounts in a coordinated way,” Zuckerberg said.

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Zuckerberg says Facebook has taken down over 100 networks spreading disinformation so far while Microsoft told Gray its OTS software has stopped attacks on both presidential campaigns. Though hackers were briefly able to access President Donald Trump’s website this past week.

And just a few days ago, emails with the headline “Vote for Trump or else” were sent to some voters in Florida. They claimed to have been sent by the white supremacist group “Proud Boys” but according to federal investigators were actually sent from Iran.

“It’s just put out to start chaos to undermine the election process on your mind,” said McDonald.

A SurveyUSA poll of Georgia voters this week studying misinformation found how quickly false stories can be spread.

It showed 62% of Georgians surveyed had seen the false claim that “Hollywood and democratic elites routinely engage in sex trafficking and pedophilia” on social media. It also showed 28% of Georgia voters believe the claim is true.

“Eventually it ends up, you know, with friends, family, sharing these stories, that just started out as complete falsehoods,” said McDonald.

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Jonesboro resident Ellen Divins told Gray she got something in the mail that scared her.

“I got a postcard. It was kind of threatening. In saying, you know, my vote was secret, but my voting history is not,” said Divins.

She showed Gray the handwritten postcard which said someone will be contacting her about her quote “voting record.”

“I don’t like anybody telling me that they’re going to come and talk to me about what I’ve done. With everything that’s gone on in the elections and in the campaigns, it’s real easy to go from point A to point B and think that somebody is going to come and do something or somebody is going to retaliate,” Divins said.

Gray found out the postcard came from a group called “Indivisible Chicago” which is part of a get out the vote effort. A spokesperson told Gray the quote “uses language that has been tested and proven to do so.”

Divins says the explanation doesn’t make things any less confusing.

“There’s so much it’s just you’re swamped with information and stuff coming. Mail, text messages, Facebook. It’s intimidating to say the least,” said Divins.

Cybersecurity experts say the information is spread so successfully is because people willingly share it. They see it posted by a friend or family member and then hit the share button.

Those experts stress how important it is to be vigilant and check the source and facts to see if they are legitimate before you go ahead and share it.

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