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Skepticism bet defense against misinformation

Russia and other foreign foes continue to probe both election mechanisms and the political network in this country in attempts to find ways to commit mischief electronically, it is being reported. With the presidential election less than three weeks away, that comes as no surprise.

There is little most Americans can do to prevent foreign operatives from hacking into digital election systems, though it needs to be noted the vast majority of those in the U.S. appear to be relatively secure. Still less can we influence candidates and political organizations whose communications may be at risk.

Let us not permit worry about the security of elections and sabotage of candidates to distract us from the primary digital danger, however. It is our own gullibility and willingness to believe the worst of those with whom we disagree politically.

Much was made of electronic tampering with the 2016 elections. But Moscow and other foreign actors achieved very, very little success in attempting to infiltrate mechanisms by which we cast ballots and count votes. There is no evidence online sabotage had a decisive effect on any election four years ago.

But the success our enemies had in pitting Americans against one another continues to be evident every day. Planting false stories on social media and setting up networks — even to the extent of funding two public protests with opposite goals ­– are among tactics that, sad to say, have worked very well for those seeking to cripple or even destroy the United States.

As if on schedule just months before the presidential election, the COVID-19 pandemic has given Russian operatives an excellent opportunity to foster divisiveness, mistrust and hate among us.

Russia’s GRU military intelligence service has been identified as the source of one major disinformation campaign using English-language websites. It disseminated about 150 “articles” containing false information this spring and summer, U.S. officials say.

Among the most ridiculous was a claim that Chinese officials believe COVID-19 is a biological weapon, presumably developed by the United States. Given the fact that international disease experts know the virus originated in China, the claim would be laughable to most people.

It only takes a few to accept it and begin spreading the word for such a falsehood to cause more mistrust and divisiveness, however.

That is where we, the American people, come in, of course. So eager have some become to believe the worst about those who disagree with us socially or politically that we have become easy prey for online disinformation offensives. Good old American skepticism ­– about all things — is our best defense. It is long past time that we began turning to it.

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