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Idaho officials want you to report misleading, false election information

Misinformation reporting form.Idaho
Screenshot from the Idaho Secretary of State's website
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The state has set up a portal where you can file complaints about information you find on social media.

Idaho state officials have set up a website where people can report election-related items they think are inaccurate or misleading.

Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck is looking for suspicious social media posts, from the nuggets that may be spread without malicious intent, where “there’s no grain of truth to it or it can be slightly rooted in some truth and we want to figure out what’s going on there,” he said.

The form on the Secretary of State’s website asks people who file a report for a screenshot or a link to an offending social media site and an explanation for why they think the information is wrong.

Chad Houck: “What we’re doing with our new misinformation portal on the secretary of state’s site for Idaho is asking the public to help us see those narratives that are out there in the social media space, in the public space, that may fall into one of three categories of information that are out there on the internet. We’re looking at misinformation, disinformation and malformation. Misinformation is false information, but it’s not necessarily intended to cause harm. In that case you’re most often looking at a mistake, a typo, something that’s off. But it could be as simple as somebody saying the general election is on November 4 when it’s actually on November 8. In that case we might want to make a social media post or a comment immediately below that on that particular platform to just remind the public that it’s actually on November 8 that the general election is coming up, not the fourth.”

Chad Houck: “The next one would be disinformation and that’s using false information intended to manipulate or to cause confusion or damage to or lead someone in the wrong direction. That’s a little more problematic because you still have to walk this fine line of countering the narrative while protecting folks’ ability to have free speech under the First Amendment. Disinformation, malformation both kind of fall in this space of a little bit of gray area because you’ve got information that’s counterproductive to the administration of an election and, to be clear, what we’re talking about here is mostly administrative functions, process, commentary, those kinds of things. We’re not looking at the information going back and forth between candidates or about candidates. That falls under a whole different category. In that case, often what we’re looking at is the campaign finance disclosures on them from our office, but not whether or not the statements made by one candidate about another are accurate. That’s completely up to their campaign strategy and we’ve certainly seen a lot of negative campaigning going on and it’s up to the voters to decide where the truth in that lies. We’re really focusing in on the administrative information that’s out there, things like polls are open, polls are closed and it’s an uptick that we’ve seen going clear back to the 2016 elections, where we saw international interference. We saw this on a national level. False accounts, putting out false information and trying to disrupt the process or even just the credibility of the elections process.”

Houck says his agency’s approach toward outside interference has changed since then.

Chad Houck: “We’ve changed in terms of posture. We’re much more proactive in this space than we used to be. In 2017, elections was declared a component of critical infrastructure nationally, which means we began partnering with the Department of Homeland Security and becoming a piece of the intelligence community in that regard. We feed information upstream. We get information downstream from other states and we look for those indicators that campaigns may be playing out. One of the best examples in the last election was a series of robocalls that we saw were starting on the East Coast and they were coming out as time zones would shift. They’d come out about the same time within each time zone. So, by getting that information, by sharing it through our partners and through some of the different networks that we’re a part of, we were able to anticipate that that should be hitting Idaho at a particular time. We had press releases already ready to go to counter those narratives and by watching social media and just monitoring for some specific keywords, we were able to see when those first posts would hit, that people talked about having received these robocalls and immediately put out a response to that. So, looking at those kinds of narratives, yes we’ve seen it, yes we know that, from an intelligence standpoint, we’re anticipating a higher uptick in this particular election from some of our international threat actors, if you will. We’ve just seen evidence in the months past it’s leading up to a little bit more of a campaign this time around than maybe what we saw in 2020.”