The spread of fake news on U.S.-based social networks like Instagram and WhatsApp will be a bigger threat to the U.S. electoral process next year than foreign sources, an NYU report released this week predicts. 

The findings of “Disinformation and the 2020 Election” offer a twist on the 2016 presidential campaign, when the Russian government used fake news items and other online tactics to help Donald Trump win the White House. Russia, as well as Iran and China, will still try to affect the upcoming campaign, the report by researchers from the Center for Business and Human Rights predicts. 

The domestic threat is growing with the rise of deepfakes, like the video earlier this summer that instigators doctored to show House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slurring her speech. A conservative group was behind the altered content. 

“While Russian operatives and other foreign-based actors are all but certain to surface (or resurface) in 2020,” the report said, “a greater volume of disinformation probably will come from domestic U.S. sources. Some of these domestic sources will be obscure…others will be better known.”

The report said that major social media platforms like Facebook, which owns both Instagram and Whatsapp, and Twitter had improved their efforts to remove content looking to dis-inform the public. These efforts have undercut consumers’ trust in all news sources. But the report said that these companies needed to do more. The report targeted President Trump for using his Twitter account to spread false information, citing the Washington Posts Fact Checker, which has accused him of making more than 12,000 false or misleading claims. 

  • For-profit firms both inside and outside the U.S. will be hired to spread misinformation in 2020.
  • Instagram played a much more significant role in spreading Russian misinformation in 2016 than many people realize and could continue to do so in 2020. WhatsApp also needs to be watched because it’s been used in other countries for meddling
  • Congress should pass pending, “narrowly tailored” bills to prevent disinformation. 
  • Social media platforms should work together to prevent disinformation. 

Karma Takeaway: Disinformation campaigns aiming to influence voters will play a major role in the next election, and social media platforms will need to do more to prevent them. But their ongoing presence will also create opportunities for technology startups and investors seeking to solve this problem.