As the primary season comes to a close and the 2018 midterms loom, strategists are warning campaigns of the need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in the digital landscape. Two challenges are front of mind: securing your campaign’s digital assets and the heightened threat posed by fake audio, video, and digital disinformation.
The topics featured at both of C&E’s recent conferences: CampaignTech East this spring and this past week’s CampaignExpo Conference. Here are the two main takeaways.
Take Proactive Steps to Secure Your Campaign
The threat of a cybersecurity breach during an election is ever present, meaning your campaign or political organization must embrace better security protocols from top to bottom.
That starts with the basics (two-factor authentication to better secure access to your data and systems) and extends to the more complex (getting to grips with the threat of foreign interference and developing a counter plan to implement if needed).
“Tools like LastPass, 1Password are pretty widely supported, low cost, and easily spread around a company,” said Todd Plants, CTO of Anne Lewis Strategies, “A password manager, two factor authentication. It’s about setting these good security policies centrally.”
The challenge with election cybersecurity, noted David Becker of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, is there’s never a finish line. “The bad guys are going to keep getting better as you’re getting better,” he said. So key to combatting the threat is acknowledging both the urgent and ever present nature of it.
“The threat is very real,” Becker said of foreign interference, cautioning digital consultants and others in the campaign ecosystem not to discount it even with the relatively small dollar amount foreign interests spent last cycle on digital ad platforms. “I call it a low-risk, low-cost, high-reward proposition.”
Becker did say there’s at least some reason for optimism ahead of the midterms, highlighting the work federal officials are doing in concert with state election officials to combat potential breaches into voting systems. But going forward, he warns, there will be a need for a constant federal funding steam to help states combat more sophisticated hacking attempts.
Focus In On Your Candidate’s Digital Brand
Your candidate’s digital brand will take on new importance in 2018. The current environment around truth and campaigns plus the emerging threat of fake video and audio should scare candidates up and down the ballot. It’s why campaigns need to focus all the more on building a solid digital brand and developing strong relationships with both their audience and digital influencers.
Longtime Democratic communications pro Rodell Mollineu notes it’s those social media influencers who can help set the record straight if your campaign is battling a false narrative.
“A campaign or candidate’s ability to have a good digital brand – to be well regarded, is important because people still do give the benefit of the doubt,” said Mollineau, the former head of American Bridge 21st Century and now partner at Rokk Solutions.
Being in a position to activate the supporters your campaign has cultivated will be crucial to stop false narratives from spreading.
At C&E’s CampaignExpo Conference, Jose Aristimuno of NOW Strategies sounded the alarm on fake audio, arguing that audio of questionable quality will actually increase the believability, making it a more immediate threat than fake video.
“When the audio quality is poor, that makes it all the more real,” he said. “What you need to do is activate the network of supporters you have, to [have them] get your message out.”
One other thing for campaigns to consider when wading through in the manufactured media era: weighing the impact their own rebuttals may have on messaging more generally.
“On the one hand, you can run an information campaign that says, ‘Hey, don’t trust what you hear,’” said Michelle Coyle, President of BGSD Strategies, “On the other hand, when you say ‘You can’t trust everything you hear from them,’ that also underlies the message: ‘You can’t trust everything you hear from us.’”