Millions of voters across the US received robocalls and texts encouraging them to stay at home on Election Day, in what experts believe were clear attempts at suppressing voter turnout in the closely contested 2020 political races.
Employing such tactics to spread disinformation and sow confusion amid elections isn’t new, and it’s not yet clear whether they were used more this year than in previous elections—or what effect they actually had on turnout.
However, there is some speculation that given the heavy scrutiny of election disinformation on social media in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, malicious actors may have leaned more on private forms of communication like calls, texts, and emails in this election cycle.
Among other incidents on Tuesday, officials in Michigan warned voters early in the day to ignore numerous robocalls to residents in Flint, which encouraged them to vote on Wednesday to avoid the long lines on Election Day. Meanwhile, around 10 million automated calls went out to voters across the country in the days leading up to the election advising them to “stay safe and stay home,” the Washington Post reported.
New York’s attorney general said her office was “actively investigating allegations that voters are receiving robocalls spreading disinformation.” A senior official with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency told reporters on Tuesday that the FBI is looking into robocalling incidents as well. The FBI declined to confirm this, saying in a statement: “We are aware of reports of robocalls and have no further comment. As a reminder, the FBI encourages the American public to verify any election and voting information they may receive through their local election officials.”
The use of robocalls for the purpose of political speech is broadly protected in the US, under the First Amendment’s free-speech rules. But the