The New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights has warned of technology-based threats that could compromise the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Technological Threats To 2020 Presidential Election

In a report released on Tuesday, the organization said that bad actors could use Instagram images, WhatsApp messages, and altered deepfake videos of candidates to manipulate the upcoming election.

The report predicted that for-profit firms, both in the United States and abroad, could be paid to influence the election. It pinpointed China, Iran, and Russia as the countries that are likely to launch these attacks. Americans could also be manipulated to participate in rallies and protests.

NYU Stern Center deputy director Paul Barrett, author of the report, acknowledged that social media companies are now aware of the potential threats and now have better defenses than in 2016, but it urged them to step up their game ahead of the election.

"It's almost impossible for these platforms, given the way they're set up, to defend themselves completely from meddling and disinformation that they're going to face," Barrett said.

Instagram And WhatsApp

Instagram users could be an attractive target of disinformation campaigns because the Russian Internet Research Agency, which was behind the 2016 manipulation effort, had success in the platform. It received more user engagement on the photo and video-sharing social network than on other social media services.

Instagram is also an ideal venue for memes, which are commonly used to spread fake quotes and disinformation.

WhatsApp, which was used in recent elections in Brazil and India, provides private and encrypted messaging, which is ideal for viral spread of disinformation. The report suggested limiting WhatsApp message forwarding to a single group at a time to curb disinformation campaigns.

Deepfake Videos

Deepfake videos are fake videos that look just like the real thing. These altered videos can swap faces in videos, so it can make people believe that a candidate did something that never happened.

Deepfakes have targeted porn stars and celebrities but they can also target politicians. In May, a digitally altered video showed U.S. House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi appearing to slur drunkenly through a speech. The video was widely shared on Facebook and YouTube. Facebook did not take down the clip, but said it "dramatically reduced its distribution."

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