Connecticut Is Paying Someone $150,000 to Search 4chan for Election Misinformation

Dubbed the “Misinfo Sheriff,” the full-time position will “bat down the BS before it gets out there.”

Someone is going to be paid $150,000 to trawl through 4chan, 8kun, Gettr, Rumble, and other toxic online swamps to find new misinformation narratives linked to the midterm elections in Connecticut. 

The position will be officially called an Election Information Security Analyst—or  “Misinformation Sheriff” as others have dubbed it—and will be a full-time role within the office of Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill.

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The role is part of a broader effort by Merrill’s office to combat “election misinformation and disinformation” ahead of the 2022 elections in November. The campaign will also include a $2 million advertising campaign “to educate and inform the state’s registered voters on voting how-to’s, including absentee voting.”

But for the Misinfo Sheriff, the focus will be less on education and more on discovery.

“We bat down the BS before it gets out there.”

“We stay alert by having a full-time Election Information Security Analyst to help us identify false information about the election process,” Scott Bates, Connecticut’s Deputy Secretary of the State, told VICE News. “Once we identify the misinformation, we work with the National Association of Secretaries of State and [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency], and they work with the social media platforms. We bat down the BS before it gets out there.”

So essentially the role will involve monitoring mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as less mainstream sites like Reddit and Telegram, and even less mainstream sites like 4chan and 8kun. Then the person taking the role will have to identify potential new misinformation campaigns that relate to election integrity in Connecticut.

Then the person will have to escalate through an established series of hierarchical networks that have been created to streamline the flagging of misinformation content related to elections. The end result is that the platform where the misinformation was found are asked to take it down.

There are no plans at the moment to make the content being flagged public, though the Secretary of State’s office did say it was something it may consider.

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The funding for the role becomes available on July 1. Gabe Rosenberg, Merrill’s chief of staff, told VICE News that he hoped the successful candidate would be in place by July 15 at the latest.

The Secretary of State believes these measures are needed because, as outlined in the Gov. Ned Lamont’s midterm budget, “malicious foreign actors have demonstrated the motivation and capability to significantly disrupt election activities, thus undermining public confidence in the fairness and accuracy of election results.”

What Merrill doesn’t mention is the fact that rather than overseas threats, the largest threat to the integrity of elections in America today comes from former President Donald Trump and his army of election deniers across the country. Connecticut’s new Misinfo Sheriff won’t be tracking Trump or GOP misinformation, unless he is specifically speaking about Connecticut.

Trump’s embrace of the sweeping conspiracy that claims the 2020 election was stolen from him has inspired sitting and prospective lawmakers to embrace the lie and inspire tens of millions of Americans to do the same.

And even before the role in Connecticut can be filled, Republicans are already calling it into question.

“This seems highly political,” Ben Proto, chair of the state Republican Party, told the New Haven Register  “This is just policing what is said about elections, and that’s just wrong.”

Rosenberg pointed out that the role was not partisan but for those who believe that the election was stolen, such statements matter very little.

Already since news of the appointment was publicized, Republicans have taken to comparing it to the creation of the  “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s novel 1984.

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This criticism is likely just the first very mild wave of attacks that the person who finally takes the job will face.

For those considering taking up the role, they should maybe consider what happened to Nina Jankowics earlier this year. 

The Department of Homeland Security announced at the end of April that it was creating a Disinformation Governance Board with the stated goal to “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security.”

The creation of the board was a terrible idea from the off given that it ultimately had no power to do anything but what made it so much worse was the muddle communication from DHS about the board and its role.

In the end, a concerted right-wing campaign to demonize the board and its members—in particular its executive director Jankowicz—succeeded in forcing the DHS to mothball the effort after just three weeks.

Combating election misinformation is vitally important, but spending so much money on a single staff position raises questions about just how effective it will be.

Imagine what will happen on the new Connecticut Misinfo Sheriff’s first day in the job if Trump-supporting gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski tweets about a stolen election.

If the Misinfo Sheriff petitions Twitter to remove the post, then the right will be up in arms about violating First Amendment rights. If they don’t flag the tweet, then what’s the point of their position?

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Rosenberg told VICE News that in a case such as this, there would be “no point” in flagging the post, as Twitter or Facebook typically does not remove such content.

And that’s the relatively straightforward aspect of the work. Try flagging an anonymous post about some Connecticut-related election conspiracy on the fringe message board 4chan to the moderators and see where that gets you. On a site where school shooting gunmen are valorized and revenge porn is openly welcomed, it’s unlikely Connecticut’s Misinfo Sheriff will get much of a response.

And these are the sites we know about. What about private Telegram channels, where much of the right-wing grassroots campaigns are being coordinated right now? Or private Discord servers that can’t be monitored?

As Ryan Broderick pointed out in his Garbage Day newsletter on Wednesday, there are better ways to spend $150,000.

“Instead of paying someone to search “site:4chan.org Connecticut” four times a day, what if the state just invested all of that money in easily searchable and navigable government websites and social pages that all worked on mobile, updated frequently, and contained pertinent information written clearly and published in timely fashion? Revolutionary, right? 

Follow David Gilbert on Twitter.

Tagged:

Politics, Connecticut, Trump, voting, Elections, 4Chan, rumble, 8kun, the big lie, GETTR, Truth Social

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