Here’s What Foreign Interference Will Look Like in the 2020 Election

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The incentives for foreign countries to meddle are much greater than in 2016, and the tactics could look dramatically different.

  • The Hack and Leak: Overcome or Poised for a Comeback? It’s unclear whether the Russian government will reprise its most infamous and innovative act in 2016: the hacking and leaking of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
  • The Dawn of a New Disinformation Age: Social-media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have grown far more sophisticated since 2016 at detecting and disabling coordinated foreign campaigns of misinformation and fake accounts, honing their approach based on challenges confronted not just during the US midterms but in elections everywhere from India to the European Union. These crackdowns, however, have exposed how the actors behind these schemes have multiplied beyond Russia and employed new tactics and tools to exert influence on political processes worldwide.
  • The Soft Underbelly of America’s Election Infrastructure: While there’s no evidence that votes were altered or vote tallies manipulated during the 2016 US presidential election, the Russians likely targeted election systems in all 50 US states, including research on “election-related web pages, voter ID information, election system software, and election service companies.” Foreign actors could also try to make it harder for Americans to exercise the right to vote, perhaps by modifying voter-registration rolls, tampering with government mechanisms for informing voters when and where to vote, indirectly stifling the vote through attacks on systems such as the power grid.
  • The Influence Hiding in Plain(ish) Sight: Governments can spread propaganda to American audiences through state-run news organizations such as China’s Global Times or Russia’s RT. And, perhaps the most common way for other countries to sway American politics and policy is through “dark money,” or other direct and indirect funding and influence channels—whether that comes in the form of U.S.-based foreign agents meeting with campaign officials abroad or American lobbyists making campaign contributions to American politicians while simultaneously working on behalf of foreign clients.

Here’s What Foreign Interference Will Look Like in 2020