Rep. Adam Schiff is alarmed. The California Democrat chairs the Intelligence Committee, so he’s in a position to know what could be coming, and he tells Vox’s Kara Swisher that neither the nation’s social media companies nor the government are ready for the election meddling we’re going to get in 2020.
He’s particularly concerned about deepfake videos and other dirty tricks, citing the doctored video that circulated this spring of a seemingly drunk Nancy Pelosi. “The tech companies aren’t ready,” Schiff said. “They don’t have, I think, their policies fully thought out yet. The government isn’t ready. We don’t have the technologies yet to be able to detect more sophisticated fakes.” He’s warned that they’ve got a very short time frame to figure it out. “It’s eight months until the primaries begin to try to prepare the public, prepare ourselves, determine what other steps need to be taken to protect ourselves from this kind of disinformation,” he told Swisher.
He also warns that government needs to step up. “This is a difficult space for the government to operate in because we’re not going to censor people, but we can use the bully pulpit to try to encourage good behavior,” Schiff said. “We can also share information. When we learn through the intelligence community that Russia is pushing out a deepfake, we can alert the companies to it. There needed to be better cooperation, coordination in the last election. We need to make sure that those problems are ironed out before the next one.”
When the biggest bully pulpit of all is used by the biggest bully of all to encourage the worst kind of behavior, that’s especially challenging. Having a Senate majority leader who refuses to allow any kind of legislation to protection our elections is an issue as well. Public pressure might be enough to make Facebook and Twitter and Google step up. Getting Trump and McConnell, who can only benefit by any interference from Russia, on board will only come from sustained political pressure from the House, and it’s got to come now.