Voter intimidation plot succeeds regardless of culprit

The Trump administration has accused Iran of targeting Democratic voters in an e-mail intimidation campaign seemingly designed to create uncertainty around the U.S. election.

Sarah Kreps, professor of government at Cornell University, studies misinformation and election interference and is author of the book “Social Media and International Relations.” She says accounts of foreign interference introduce “noise into the system” regardless of whether the culprits are identified.

“Back in August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement notifying the public of efforts by China, Russia, and Iran to influence the election. These foreign countries are trying to sow confusion, undermine the integrity of the electoral system and by extension imply a superiority of their own system. They do this not through covert action but through online influence.

“The good news is that the forensics on the emails revealed by the FBI yesterday led to a fairly easy giveaway: metadata that showed that the emails had come from servers in Estonia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The bad news is that the plot succeeds regardless. It causes people to think that they cannot trust what they read, consistent with the objective of introducing noise into the system. Not knowing what is authentic or inauthentic, voters may just verge toward universal distrust of governing institutions as a whole, which has pernicious implications for everything from accepting the results of the election to having confidence in a COVID-19 vaccine.”

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