Recent elections in the US, France and Germany indicate an emerging practice whereby autocracies meddle in democratic elections by hacking data, scandalizing it through leaks, and amplifying the effect by creating intense cognitive flows of disinformation and distrust across social media.

Election meddling now has a recognizable five-stage pattern, which allows for the development of algorithms that can detect signs of machined foreign operations in real time in cases of similar meddling patterns. The meddling toolbox is reusable. However, increasing awareness about its practices can mitigate the impact in subsequent elections: There are clear signs of the meddling having shifted from the US to the French, and especially the German elections. Election meddling can also backfire, and hence deter further meddling.

Democratic oversight of data is lacking for the most part. Voters should be better equipped with defensive tools that tackle manipulative algorithmic and future AI-based tactics. These tools can be provided by governments. However, more agile market or society-based solutions could also be made available through different forms of cyber-based election monitoring.

Mika Aaltola
Programme Director - the Global Security research programme