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How To Rebuild Trust In Democracy In The Digital Age

Voters have access to a lot of information and have to figure out what is the truth.
Voters have access to a lot of information and have to figure out what is the truth.

Rebuilding trust in the democratic process will not be quick, and panelists at the University of Cincinnati on Friday afternoon agree the time to do it is not during an election.

The time to start, says Professor Richard Harknett, a national cyber strategy expert and chair of UC's Department of Political Science, is now for the 2022 and 2024 elections.

"It's going to require leadership both at the individual citizen level all the way up to the new administration and in between," says Harknett. "To intentionally continue to work through all of our different organizations, to not take trust for granted and reach out to those people who have lost it and bring them back into the system."

Harknett also studies foreign actors. To keep elections safe and minimize their influence, he says there needs to be better alignment between industry and government through regulatory reforms.

Secretaries Of State Need To Take The Lead

Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson advises his counterparts and says they need to continue to be open and transparent.

"They can't be afraid to go to party events and tell the truth about how the elections work," he says. "But they also can't be afraid to listen to folks who have these legitimate questions about critical issues. The other thing is to not exaggerate how smoothly the elections always go. There are always problems. There are always dead people that vote."

Grayson also explained votes aren't "dumped."

"They are just counted and when the results are reported that's not a vote dump."

Facebook's Decisions Now And In The Future

Facebook's Katie Harbath is the social media giant's public policy director for global elections. She told participants Friday the company didn't take certain decisions lightly, like forgoing election ads and placing limits on what people can post. "What are societal norms and where should lines and penalties be?" she posited.

The panelists say a possibility in the future is for say, the Georgia Secretary of State or somebody else to be doctored in a fake video through artificial intelligence.

"There's been some partnerships that we've built up with other organizations and universities to try to build up those databases to build up those detection capabilities for deep fakes," says Harbath.

Harknett says it's going to take tech companies, elected officials and the media to rebuild trust in democracy over time.

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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.