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As elections loom, IU looks to crack down on the spread of misinformation

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– In a months’ time, Indianapolis will hold a mayoral election. One year from now, the country will hold a presidential election.

Nationwide, two big concerns for government officials and voters alike are election security and the spread of misinformation.

Indiana made a $10 million investment to help address election security. The money, in part, will make way for 10% of the state’s voting machines will have paper trails. A little black box attached to electronic election machines allows you to see your electronic vote on paper and then correct it if you find a mistake. There’s also been upgrades in cyber security and protocols.

Last week, Indiana secretary of state Connie Lawson talked about the upgrades while demonstrating the new technology.

“I know that this machine recorded my vote the way I intended and I can cast my vote and then that scrolls up so the next voter cannot see how I voted,” she explained.

As the state works to protect how you vote, others are working to protect why you vote.

At the IU Observatory on Social Media, Filippo Menczer and his team are developing tools designed to combat the spread of misinformation. Together the team has developed three tools:

  • Hoaxy which helps to track the spread of information and misinformation online over time.
  • Botometer, which is described as being able to “check the activity of a Twitter account and gives it a score based on how likely the account is to be a bot,” or untrustworthy source.
  • BotSlayer, which is described as “an application that helps track and detect potential manipulation of information spreading on Twitter.”

“If you can flood the environment, pollute it with misinformation then you’re basically suppressing information that real people need to inform themselves and to ultimately decide how to vote,” Menczer said.

While much has been made of the effect misinformation has on elections, Menczer says determining the exact impact is difficult. Researchers need larger sample sizes of information detailing how people vote, and why.

“Common sense would suggest that whatever we are exposed to, whatever information we are exposed to can effect on our decisions, and therefore the way we vote. However, the extent to which this happens, the impact that misinformation has specifically on voting is not really clear,” Menczer said.

Despite the unclear nature of its impact, Menczer says understanding how misinformation spreads can help people fight against it.

“By understanding better what are the vulnerabilities, what are the factors that affect the spread of misinformation, we can also figure out good countermeasures so we can restore the integrity of our information system,” he said.

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