It sounds a little dystopian, I’ll grant. But let’s hear them out.
Right now, these experts said, the federal government’s response to disinformation and domestic extremism is haphazard and spread across multiple agencies, and there’s a lot of unnecessary overlap.
Renée DiResta, a disinformation researcher at Stanford’s Internet Observatory, gave the example of two seemingly unrelated problems: misinformation about Covid-19 and misinformation about election fraud.
Often, she said, the same people and groups are responsible for spreading both types. So instead of two parallel processes — one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aimed at tamping down Covid-related conspiracy theories, and another at the Federal Election Commission, trying to correct voting misinformation — a centralized task force could coordinate a single, strategic response.
“If each of them are doing it distinctly and independently, you run the risk of missing connections, both in terms of the content and in terms of the tactics that are used to execute on the campaigns,” Ms. DiResta said.
This task force could also meet regularly with tech platforms, and push for structural changes that could help those companies tackle their own extremism and misinformation problems. (For example, it could formulate “safe harbor” exemptions that would allow platforms to share data about QAnon and other conspiracy theory communities with researchers and government agencies without running afoul of privacy laws.) And it could become the tip of the spear for the federal government’s response to the reality crisis.
Audit the algorithms.
Several experts recommended that the Biden administration push for much more transparency into the inner workings of the black-box algorithms that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other major platforms use to rank feeds, recommend content and usher users into private groups, many of which have been responsible for amplifying conspiracy theories and extremist views.
“We must open the hood on social media so that civil rights lawyers and real watchdog organizations can investigate human rights abuses enabled or amplified by technology,” Dr. Donovan said.