Press Release: Targeting African American Voters: 2020 Ongoing Influence Operations Deciding US Senate Runoff Election in Georgia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 14, 2020
Contact: Solice Scott, 202.244-4450, [email protected]

Washington D.C. – Project Domino and Stop Online Violence Against Women Inc. have partnered to develop a data analysis report targeting the upcoming Georgia Senate Runoff. The release of this timely report, which was developed using Project Domino toolset, will help journalists, academics, organizers and Georgia State electoral officials determine immediate actions to address disinformation and digital voter suppression tactics on Twitter and other platforms that are underway to undermine voters.

“When it comes to disinformation, Tech companies have taken a hands off-approach, especially when it is spread by domestic actors,” says Shireen Mitchell, Founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women Inc. “We’ve seen the horrendous impacts of these decisions, with examples like the YouTube radicalization of the shooter of Christ Church, and killing of two innocent protesters in Kenosha. Sadly, many political candidates are also participating in the spreading of disinformation that impacts our right to vote.”

There are many challenges when it comes to preventing disinformation. In America, the ongoing debate over censorship and free speech has allowed disinformation to flow unrestricted. This has resulted in an ecosystem that encourages a disproportionate ratio of disinformation to factual information (currently at a rate of 6:1). Moreover, it is only further exacerbated by an overall lack of understanding of disinformation’s impact on victims, politics, and society as a whole.

The primary goal of this analysis has been to look at accounts that are spammers (i.e. individuals sharing information at high rates), and Trolls (i.e. accounts sharing measurably toxic and harmful information). Big Data Analytics and leading Machine Learning models allow for the collecting and analyzing of the exceedingly large amount of data that are produced on platforms such as Twitter.

“The dataset reveals a coordinated effort to harass and suppress the African American vote in Georgia with the use of conspiracy theories and disinformation,” says Project Domino Data Scientist Cody Webb, adding “it also shows how known threat actors have overwhelmed and drowned out the organic discourse surrounding the election with this harassment and disinformation.” Webb’s colleague, Project Domino Data Scientist Jessalyn Hernandez concurs.

“Using Project Domino’s toolset we were able to uncover accounts that have been pushing Right-Wing Centric propaganda for years,” she says. “Personally I found it fascinating how these networks of accounts were able to quickly incorporate Georgia content into their streams.”

Both teams underscore that sowing the seeds of disinformation is just the start. “When the Georgia election ends, these accounts will still be in place to push damaging narratives aimed specifically at placing doubt in the democratic process among Black Americans. That’s why it is imperative that once discovered, we find effective strategies to combat their toxic methods,” says Hernandez.

Project Domino and Stop Online Violence Against Women Inc. will continue to work together to determine how this tool can be used by journalists, academics, and other researchers wanting to study the impact of these online behaviors, network groupings, and rate/frequency of information being shared on specific topics or narratives. “If we continue to ignore the existence of disinformation and its ramifications for society and democracy, I fear we will not be able to turn it around or eliminate it for decades to come,” says Mitchell.

The report can be downloaded here.

Stop Online Violence Against Women Inc is a nonprofit that 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, state, and federal levels. We also focus on technology and social media company’s accountability. SOVAW serves as a resource of services and options for women and women of color, based on their level of targeted harassment or violence. We report on the diverse issues and impacts for those who are willing to share their stories. This includes digital voter suppression. We are a nonpartisan organization.

Project Domino is an open-source nonprofit research platform for citizen data scientists to research disinformation across the internet at scale. Disinformation is an insidious threat to our democracy and way of life, we at Project Domino have been working tirelessly to develop tools to understand the source and spread of disinformation at scale in order to shine a light on the growing problem and give citizen data scientists and communities at risk the information they need to make informed decisions in real-time. We are a nonpartisan organization.