Exclusive: Afraid of the fake-news blitz, U. S. Census enlists the help of tech giants

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Census Bureau has asked tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter to help ward off the “fake-news” campaigns, the fear that can lead to a disruption of the upcoming 2020 count, according to the Census of civil servants and multiple sources briefed on the matter.

Facebook, Google and Twitter logos are seen in this combination photo from the Reuters files. REUTERS/File Photo

The push, the details of which have not been previously reported, follows warnings of data and cybersecurity experts dates of 2016 that right-wing groups and foreign actors can borrow from the “fake news” playbook from the last presidential election to discourage immigrants from participating in the decennial count, officials and sources told Reuters.

The sources not to be named, said the evidence included increased chatter on platforms like “4chan” by domestic and foreign networks like prejudice to the survey. The census, they said, is a powerful target because it forms the AMERICAN elections districts, and the allocation of more than $800 billion a year in federal spending.

Ron Jarmin, Assistant Director of the Census Bureau, confirmed the agency was anticipating misinformation campaigns, and was enlisting the help of major tech companies to ward off the threat.

“We expect that (census) will be a target for this kind of efforts, in 2020,” he said.

Census Bureau officials held several meetings with tech companies since 2017 to discuss how they can help, as recently as last week, Jarmin said.

So far, the agency has received initial commitments of the Alphabet Inc, and Google, Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc to help represent misinformation campaigns online, according to the documents summarize a number of those meetings, reviewed by Reuters.

But neither the Census nor the companies have said, how advanced any of the efforts.

Facebook spokesman Adam Stone confirmed that the discussions with the Census, but not the details of any agreed action. Twitter and Google declined to comment.

The agency has also started an online landgrab control census look-alike web sites, according to the Census of civil servants. These sites can end up in the hands of people who want to keep certain parts of the population responding to the survey.

“We came up with a list of 20 to 30 Url’s that we wanted to make sure that we owned,” said Census spokesman Stephen Buckner, adding the agency had done the same for the 2010 count “to reduce confusion about where to go.”

Census controls at least two non-government websites with the “census” in the name – and – by means of marketing, Reingold, Buckner said.

The Census Bureau has, until now, has largely kept mother about how the plan is to counteract the misinformation. The efforts highlight the challenges of the internet age to the decennial data collection to the american people.

The so-called “fake news” strategies can take numerous forms, according to cyber experts: posing as a demographic group, to convey false information under the guise of defence; the spreading of false information by doctoring ads and news items; or to circulate false information to drum up fear and opposition.

Jarmin said activists focus on the census “usually by means of trying to get them to not participate, either by scaring them or telling them it’s not important, or that something they had already done – like paying their taxes – was finished with the census.”


Former Census Director John Thompson, who office in 2017, remembers his first briefing on the misinformation of the threat shortly after the 2016 presidential elections and said that the bureau of the catalyst to act.

Thompson said that he had invited data expert danah boyd to speak to top government officials in 2016. boyd, who stylizes her name in small letters, said that they saw chatter on the dark web in the white supremacy and other communities want to disrupt the count, according to Thompson and two other people in the room, who refused to be named. boyd declined to be interviewed about her presentation.

Thompson declined the details of the threats discussed in the meeting, but called them “cool.”

One of the sources is present, said boyd discussed the efforts of the “extreme-right actors, and foreign governments use misinformation campaigns to discourage minorities from participation.

A year later, the Census Bureau hosted a forum in Silicon Valley, partly on the 2020 misinformation threat, which was attended by boyd, local elected officials and representatives from the tech companies, including Twitter, Uber Technologies, and Microsoft Corp.

During that meeting, Census officials also visited Facebook and Google campuses, to meet with executives.

According to the notes of the 2017 meetings, reviewed by Reuters, Google told the Census would consider making a tailor-made census-related search project. Twitter has also agreed to help alleviate incorrect information, on the basis of the notes.

At a meeting with Facebook, Census officials discussed so that the company is participating in discussions between the Census and the U.S. Department of Defense about the security; the creation of Facebook groups census topics; and the training of the Census workers through the Facebook technology, on the basis of the notes.

FILE PHOTO: U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (L) and Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) is a fake social media post for a non-existent “Miners for Trump” rally as representatives of Twitter, Facebook and Google testify before a Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hearing on how Russia allegedly used their services to try to influence the 2016 U.S. elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, V. S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Photo File

Census is held the following meetings with these companies, including as recently as this month, according to the Census of civil servants.

It remains unclear how many of these ideas Census and tech companies in action.

Census’ Jarmin said: “There were some hits of these meetings, and a number of things that don’t pan out.”

Additional reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Paul Thomasch

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