A once-solid coalition comprising federal agencies, tech firms, election officials, and researchers, dedicated to countering foreign propaganda and disinformation, has fragmented. This breakdown is attributed to sustained GOP criticism and legal actions, which have effectively ceased most coordination between the government and social media platforms.
The Republican’s offensive began during the 2020 elections with public critiques, since escalated into lawsuits, governmental inquiries, and PR campaigns. These efforts have successfully halted nearly all collaboration between the government and tech companies in addressing misinformation.
FBI pulls back on briefings
A significant setback occurred with the FBI indefinitely pausing most briefings to social media companies about Russian, Iranian, and Chinese influence operations. Employees from two U.S. companies, previously receiving regular updates from the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, recently reported communication gaps.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, testifying to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, indicated a major shift in communication with tech companies. This change is linked to court rulings by a conservative federal judge and an appeals court, limiting government agencies’ ability to collaborate with social media platforms for content moderation.
The FBI’s interactions with tech platforms now require pre-approval and supervision by Justice Department lawyers. The bureau admitted to identifying foreign influence campaigns but refrained from informing the platforms due to new legal restrictions.
Chilling effect on information sharing
Current and former government and tech employees involved in combating online manipulation campaigns since 2020 voiced concerns about the chilling effect of Republican attacks on information sharing. This situation could potentially make it easier for foreign adversaries to manipulate U.S. public opinion and complicate the voters’ ability to discern real from fake information in the 2024 elections.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security have also ceased their outreach efforts. CISA ended communication with Silicon Valley, and the Department of Homeland Security closed a board designed to coordinate anti-disinformation programs.
Politicians express concern
Politicians like Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. Mark Warner have raised alarms about these developments. Warner, in particular, expressed grave concerns about the dismantling of systems defending against social media and election manipulation.
The broader context
This disintegration comes after Russia’s multifaceted interference in the 2016 election, which had prompted the establishment of these alliances. The breakdown of these collaborations reflects the increasing politicization of election integrity and information security in the U.S.
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