Bipartisan commission urges US take immediate steps to curb online misinformation

A report from a bipartisan commission published Monday recommends that U.S. government and social media platform leaders take a series of immediate steps to curb the “crisis of trust and truth” stemming from online disinformation and misinformation.

The report, put out by the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, puts forward recommendations that can be taken to address issues including election security and COVID-19 disinformation and misinformation online, painting a picture of an urgent moment to take action.

“This crisis demands urgent attention and a dedicated response from all parts of society,” the commissioners wrote in the report. “Every type and level of leader must think seriously about this crisis and their role in it. Each can and should enter this conversation, genuinely listening to the problems and taking real ownership of solutions.”

The report outlines dozens of recommendations to address the crisis, including creating a “national response strategy” to establish roles and responsibilities for fighting misinformation across the executive branch, investing in local journalism, diversifying social media platform workforces and investing in civic education. 

“At the time of this writing, the Federal Government lacks any clear leadership and strategy to the disinformation problem, despite its own acknowledgment of the impact on public health, elections, businesses, technology, and continued campaigns on communities of color, including immigrants and refugees,” the report reads. “This lack of leadership, ownership, or strategy is hampering efforts, slowing response times, and duplicating efforts.”

The report also recommends that changes be made to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants legal immunity to social media platforms for what is posted on their sites, to withdraw that immunity for misleading content promoted through paid advertisements and product features. 

Commissioners used the report to zero in on election security concerns. They recommended investment in post-election audits and “widespread education and awareness campaigns” to help voters understand how elections work. They also advise that Congress could fund these efforts through the appropriations cycle or an election-focused bill. 

“The 2020 Presidential Election demonstrated that the process by which elections are administered is not broadly and clearly understood, providing fertile ground for those who wish to undermine confidence or otherwise seed confusion during or after an election,” the report reads. 

Commissioners include former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Christopher Krebs, former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), journalist Katie Couric, Prince Harry, Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, and former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos. 

Krebs, who was fired by President Trump following the presidential election last year after CISA took steps to push back against election disinformation and misinformation, voiced his support for the report on Monday.

“The first phase of a journey that started 10 mos ago wraps up today w/ the release of the #AspenInfoCommission report,” Krebs tweeted. “An honor to work w/ @rashadrobinson & @katiecouric. Thx to the @AspenDigital team for making this happen, & the other Commissioners for their contributions.”

In order to help implement the report, the Aspen Institute’s Tech Policy Hub on Monday announced a prize competition that will award five semifinalist teams $5,000, and the winner $75,000, for plans to execute the report’s recommendations. 

“Misinformation is a real problem in our society that the private sector, government and technologists will need to work together to combat,” Betsy Cooper, Aspen Tech Policy Hub founding director, said in a statement Monday. “We want to build on the great work of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder by supporting projects that put the Commission’s recommendations into action.”

Tags Aspen Institute Chris Krebs Disinformation Donald Trump Election Security Katie Couric misinformation Prince Harry Will Hurd

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