A ballot drop box in Connecticut.
A ballot drop box in Connecticut. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

As part of a campaign to mitigate the impact of misinformation on Connecticut elections, the secretary of the state’s office is recruiting for a new position to sift through social media and report election falsehoods before they go viral.

The new post, called an election information security analyst, will pay $150,000 a year and was authorized by the state legislature in the most recent budget package. It’s part of a broader, $2 million campaign to root out bad voting information ahead of the 2022 statewide elections.

Whoever gets the job will be tasked with monitoring various corners of the Internet from traditional social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tik-Tok to online forums like reddit and 4-chan. Wherever they identify incorrect information related to voting in Connecticut, they’ll be expected to report the post to the website’s administrators.

Gabe Rosenberg, chief of staff and general counsel to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, said the analyst’s focus will be limited to election administration.

“Two candidates lying about each other is not our business. Vaccine misinformation? Not our business,” Rosenberg said. “The only thing we’re worried about is the mechanics of elections. We’ve seen an uptick nationally of bad information and we want to catch it closer to its source than when we see it go viral on Facebook and 10,000 people have seen it.”

Rosenberg pointed to two examples of misinformation during the 2020 election cycle. In one post, a social media user reported receiving an absentee ballot for a deceased family member before any absentee ballots had been printed. In another, a Twitter user reported that a truck hauling ballots had flipped over on Interstate 95, scattering completed ballots across the highway. Neither claim was true, he said.

“It was designed directly to make people not trust the outcome of elections,” Rosenberg said. “That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to catch at the source before it can spread.”

News of the new position, which was the subject of an article in the New York Times, has already inspired opposition. House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora issued a statement Wednesday questioning the wisdom of hiring a “‘misinformation’ cop” to serve as an “arbiter of meme content” on the Internet.

“Considering that it was our increasingly partisan Secretary of the State that empowered Democrat campaigns to manipulate the absentee ballot application process during last fall’s municipal elections, this initiative deserves ongoing scrutiny to ensure it doesn’t devolve into a political witch hunt backed by the bureaucracy of state government,” Candelora said.

Meanwhile, Connecticut Residents Against Medical Mandates, an organization opposed to vaccine mandates, started an online petition to oppose hiring an election information security analyst. The group’s founder Kate Kraemer Prokop blamed Gov. Ned Lamont for what the petition described as a “gross over reach of the government.”

“Labeling anything Lamont disagrees with as ‘fake news’ puts our American right to free speech in danger,” the petition read. “Using the Internet as a partisan playground to control public opinion by censoring those that disagree with Governor Ned Lamont is un-American and will not be tolerated in the State of Connecticut.” 

Rosenberg said whoever is eventually chosen for the position would lack the authority to censor anything from the Internet and would not be monitoring posts on subjects like vaccine policy. He said several states have created similar positions including California and Colorado. Connecticut had an IT consultant doing a similar job in the months ahead of the 2020 election. 

“Everyone knows this is a problem. This is the solution we came up with to help ameliorate the problem,” Rosenberg said. “It was successful in 2020 and we would like to make it permanent because this problem is not going away.”