Maintaining Factual Information in Public Discourse Amidst a National Crisis

National Security During a Global Pandemic

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Accurate public information remains critical to agency missions.

Factual information is critical in guiding the public through the federal government’s response to a crisis, to explain what resources are available to the public and how the federal government is protecting its citizens. Public safety efforts shouldn’t be complicated by false information. Our adversaries aim to sow doubt in the strength of American democratic institutions and can do so by leveraging a public health crisis to skew Americans’ perceptions of their government’s ability to successfully uphold its mission. Agencies have a responsibility to provide the public with facts. While uncertainty remains about how and when a crisis will be resolved, federal agencies must stay vigilant to maintain factual information in public discourse. Doing so will be a key component in ensuring agencies are able to effectively execute their missions.

Impacts to Perceptions of Public Services

National emergencies serve as a key opportunity for threat actors to influence public dis-course, harming Americans through the spread of disinformation.

As a part of the disaster response life cycle, federal agencies are inherently charged to provide clear, consistent, and timely communication that cuts through prominent falsehoods and guides U.S. citizens through a crisis. Agencies remain key nationwide influencers in the crisis conversation, reaching millions of customers across various social media platforms.

While real-time information remains readily available to most Americans, threat actors exploit the low barriers to entry by flooding disinformation into public discourse. According to Johns Hopkins University’s Thomas Rid, “There is a long history of [foreign] governments taking advantage of infectious diseases for disinformation purposes… We should expect [foreign] governments to take advantage of the current pandemic for disinformation purposes. It is clearly happening.” While there is hope that many Americans remain uninfluenced by falsehoods, agencies must remain a legitimate resource for factual information, while simultaneously interacting with their customers in a way that thwarts attempts at spreading malicious information. Fulfilling this goal extends beyond just publicizing the facts. It also includes understanding how customers interact with this information after its release.

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