Ensuring the Safety of Cyberspace in the Upcoming 2018 US Midterm Elections
Thu, 12 Jul 2018 || By Arumdriya Murwani

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal unfolded, and as the alleged intervention by the Russian government in the 2016 United States Presidential Election is being investigated, the role of the internet in US politics gained tremendous significance. In the upcoming Midterm Elections in November, where members of the House of Representatives are appointed every two years,[i] the safety of the cyberspace should be a priority for the US government. This election sometimes coincides with the election of the Senator and the Governor as well. In this article, we will explore how the US government is looking to ensure the safety of their social media space against cyber-attacks in the election and what lessons Indonesia can learn in preparation for its 2019 Presidential Election.

Q1: How did the Russian Government and the Cambridge Analytica scandal shaped the 2016 US Presidential Election?

There are allegations that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 Presidential Election and had a role in putting the current President in power.[ii] This allegation is, of course, denied by President Trump. However, the US government security bodies—CIA, FBI, and the NSA—stated that they were “highly confident” that the Russian interfered with the campaign which indirectly shaped the result of the election.[iii] The interference allegedly came in the form of an orchestrated hacking of several political organizations of the Democratic Party.[iv] This resulted in the release of thousands of stolen emails, especially emails concerning the Democratic Party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, which eventually led to the damage of her campaign and reputation.

            Besides the alleged interference of the Russian government, the public has been shocked by the recent revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based data firm, had been accused of mining millions of illegal Facebook profiles to influence the result of the election.[v] This data was allegedly used to influence voters’ choice in the upcoming election, through what is called as “micro-targeting.”[vi] Micro-targeting is the practice of sending voters tailored messages based on the voters’ profile and preferences. Some claims that this practice also helped path Trump’s way into the Oval Office. This revelation was also referred to as the “biggest leak” on Facebook history,[vii] and has earned CEO Mark Zuckerberg an invitation to testify before the Congress.

Q2: How will the US government ensure the safety of the cyberspace in the upcoming 2018 Midterm Elections?

The US government is preparing for the upcoming Midterm Elections by cooperating with Silicon Valley’s tech giants. Several of their biggest tech companies have met with US intelligence officials on May 23 to discuss the preparations for the Midterms, as well as anticipating a repeated attack from Russia-related parties.[viii] The meeting was held at Facebook’s headquarters, attended by representatives of Amazon, Apple, and Google—among several others.[ix] As the nature of the meeting was highly sensitive, the result of the meeting was not disclosed to the public. However, three sources who attended stated that the meeting is a hopeful first step to ensure that the Midterms would prohibit the repeat of Russia’s interference back in 2016.[x]

            One of the alleged results of this meeting is the incorporation of the Midterm Elections section in the Apple News app. From today until the Midterm Elections, the Apple News app will feature a banner that will take users to a section of curated stories and news about the Midterms which the Apple Editors have deemed “trustworthy, well-sourced, un-inflammatory, and relevant.”[xi] The news that will appear in the Midterm Elections section of the app will be hand-picked by professionals, instead of relying on the use of algorithms. This approach contrasts to Facebook’s, which relies on the use of algorithms to avoid human bias.[xii] Several of the many sources that Apple listed on their website includes Fox News, Vox, The Washington Post, and Politico.[xiii]

Q3: What lessons can Indonesia learn from this for its 2019 Presidential Elections?

Considering that the 2019 Indonesia Presidential Election is approaching, Indonesia can learn some lessons from what the US have experienced and apply it to the upcoming Presidential Election. First, the government needs to establish a stronger partnership with private actors in the digital and technology sectors. Establishing such partnership is seen to be effective in strengthening the cybersecurity during the Presidential Election.

We can take an example of such a relationship from Singapore, one of our own neighboring countries. Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency (CSA), a governmental body, was responsible for overseeing cybersecurity in the country. The agency has actively collaborated with private actors in the digital and technology sectors to create a greater awareness for cybersecurity.[xiv] Last year, for example, the agency cooperated with the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) and the Association of Information Security Professionals (AiSP) to organize the Cybersecurity Career Mentoring Program for students and young professionals.[xv]

Indonesia’s General Election Commission (KPU) also must step up its game, considering that cyber-attacks can easily happen in the era of digital public discourse. The KPU needs to establish a stronger monitoring capacity for data-mining firms and trolls, and be more aware towards the danger we pose. Lastly, as social media users, it is up to us to judge the quality and the source of the content we see every day. Having greater awareness on the importance of trusted sources in the era of digital media should give us the capabilities to filter out fake news and hoaxes during the election.

Editors: Atin Prabandari, MA, & Nabeel Khawarizmy Muna, S.IP

Picture: DWiliams (Pixabay)

[i] Usborne, D., (2014). US Midterms: What are they and Why are they so Important? [online] The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-midterms-what-are-they-and-why-are-they-so-important-9820971.html. Accessed on 30 June 2018

[ii] Masters, J., (2018) Russia, Trump, and the 2016 U.S. Election. [online]: Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/russia-trump-and-2016-us-election. Accessed on 30 June 2018

[iii] Ibid.,

[iv] Diamond, J. (2016) Russian Hacking and the 2016 Election, Explained. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/12/politics/russian-hack-donald-trump-2016-election/index.html. Accessed on 30 June 2018.

[v]Meredith, S., (2018) Facebook, Cambridge Analytica Scandal: Everything you need to Know. [online] CNBC. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/21/facebook-cambridge-analytica-scandal-everything-you-need-to-know.html. Accessed on 1 July 2018

[vi] BBC, (2018), Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal. [online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/c81zyn0888lt/facebook-cambridge-analytica-data-scandal. Accessed on 1 July 2018.

[vii] Confessore, N., (2018) Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far. [online] The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/us/politics/cambridge-analytica-scandal-fallout.html. Accessed on 1 July 2018

[viii]Frenkel, S., and Rosenberg, M., (2018) Top Tech Companies Met With Intelligence Officials to Discuss Midterms. [online] The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/technology/tech-meeting-midterm-elections.html. Accessed on 1 July 2018

[ix] Ibid.,

[x] Ibid.,

[xi] Ibid.,

[xii] Ibid.,

[xiii] Apple, (2018). Apple News launches 2018 Midterm Elections section. [online]. Available at: https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/06/apple-news-launches-2018-midterm-elections-section/. Accessed on 1 July 2018.

[xv] Cyber Security Agency, (2018.). Cybersecurity Career Mentoring Programme Returns for Its Second Year. [online]. Available at: https://www.csa.gov.sg/news/news-articles/cybersecurity-career-mentoring-programme-returns-for-its-second-year. Accessed on 6 July 2018.