Press Release: Report On Ongoing Threat To 2020 Election: Digital Voter Suppression

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For Immediate Release
January 7, 2020
Contact: Shireen Mitchell, 202-642-1881

Stop Online Violence Against Women Issues Report On Ongoing Threat To 2020 Election:

Digital Voter Suppression

Stop Online Violence Against Women (SOVAW) has released a new report on digital voter suppression. The report, “Digital Voter Suppression: A key influence in the 2020 elections,” both defines the characteristics of digital voter suppression as well as explains the impact on the American election campaigns.

“We need to accept the change in the political landscape since the 2016 election,” said SOVAW Founder, Shireen Mitchell. “There are mountains of evidence of reports, hearings, and testimonies on how disinformation was used to interfere in our last presidential election. We have to face the fact that disinformation and suppression is now a permanent part of a single continuum of actions that becomes digital voter suppression.”

The report is a follow up from SOVAW’s groundbreaking study released in October 2018. “How The Facebook Ads that Targeted Voters Centered on Black American Culture: Voter Suppression was the End Game” was a first-of-its-kind report on the data visualization of the 3,500 ads released by Congress bought by the Russian Internet Research Agency on Facebook. The report revealed that the majority of the Russian-purchased ads used the themes of Black Identity and culture, posted with the intent to engage in voter suppression of Black voters.

The report released today outlines both past and present disinformation campaigns used during the election cycles starting from 2016 leading up to today. It includes descriptions of disinformation campaigns as well as examples of digital voter suppression. The report offers multiple examples of images, political ads and data visualizations of current social networks that have the intent to suppress voters and target candidates.

As we head towards the election in November 2020, key findings of our analysis from our first report, combined with the most updated data collected, mean we can confirm that the past measures to suppress the votes of the Black community have neither been addressed nor slowed down. Instead, we have discovered, at a minimum, five distinct, targeted campaigns in usage today aimed at Black voters. This has not only impacted existing presidential candidate campaigns but also local ones, in addition to effecting media and social networks handling of election issues. The solutions offered by tech and media companies in response to the post-election questions from Congress not only have failed, but companies like Facebook decided not to take down disinformation and suppression ads from any political candidate. This only provides fuel instead of extinguishing the problem. Our recommendations for effective counter-measures include solutions for campaigns, activists, organizations, political strategists and tech companies. Following these steps will help stem – although not stop — the forces from outside and inside the country, who’s intent is to target Black voters.

“This report provides unprecedented insight into how Black women have and still are being targeted by online disinformation campaigns. This information can only be generated by researchers who have the same online experiences as the women being targeted in these campaigns. Black voter suppression has always been a feature of American elections it has just gone online.”

– Mutale Nkonde, Executive Director AI for the People, Fellow Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University.

“People who care about democracy, and that should be all of us, need to read SOVAW’s latest report because it demonstrates that we’ve learned nothing about how to stop digital voter suppression. This new report highlights the crucial importance of racial literacy, that is understanding how central race is in the deployment of cyber attacks against our democracy.

Once again, SOVAW is breaking new ground with this report that reminds us how racism is both the point of digital voter suppression and what fuels it. Those who want to see democracy continue ignore these findings at their own peril.”

~ Jessie Daniels, Faculty Affiliate, Harvard Berkman Klein Center and Professor of Sociology at The City University of New York

 

The Stop Online Violence Against Women’s report is available here:

Stop Online Violence Against Women addresses inadequate laws and policies that lack protections for women in particular women of color. We focus on online violence against women, laws and policy changes needed at the local, federal levels. We also focus on technology and social media company accountability. SOVAW serves as a resource of services and options for women and women of color, based on their level of harassment or violence. We report on the diverse issues and impacts for women who are willing to share their stories.

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