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Midterm elections prompt data privacy concerns

The U.S. midterm elections are just weeks away. According to new research by NordVPN, many Americans have growing concerns about the privacy of their votes, the use of data harvesting in campaigning, and the potential for Twitter bots to spread fake election information. Are voters right to be worried about these issues? Let’s take a closer look.

Midterm elections prompt data privacy concerns

Voter privacy concerns

The NordVPN research team found that many Americans do not believe that their choice at the ballot box is private. This can be understood in the context of growing worries about invasive data gathering by political campaigners and tech companies.

While voting is anonymous in America, data about potential voting habits is gathered meticulously by many corporations. Specifically, many respondents expressed concerns about the ways in which data gathering was being used in election campaigns.

Almost half (47%) of respondents agreed that stricter laws against intrusive data harvesting could limit the spread of misinformation, while 46% said that enforcing legislation of this kind would make tech companies more accountable for the disinformation on their platforms.

Concerns around the role of tech companies in election misinformation are clearly growing in the age of social media, something that was exemplified in our research on Twitter spambots.

Twitter bots

Among respondents to a NordVPN survey, 70% expressed a belief that Twitter bots have significant power to influence the outcome of a U.S. election.

The reasoning behind this worry is almost certainly linked to a widespread awareness that disinformation and fake news often spreads on social media platforms like Twitter. While U.S. society may be divided along political lines, a majority of Americans (62%) do agree on one thing, at least — that voter disinformation is undermining democracy.

Most Americans (56%) also agree that unchecked data collection could be exacerbating the problem, potentially through targeted ads containing misinformation.

Here are some more key findings from NordVPN’s research:

  • 53% think election disinformation and misinformation will increase leading up to and during the upcoming U.S. 2022 midterm elections.
  • 53% agree that election misinformation and disinformation campaigns can dissuade people from voting or even suppress the vote.
  • 44% agree it would help to make commercial advertisers more accountable for the spread of any misinformation and disinformation.

Are voter concerns justified?

This is an area where it’s important to distinguish between people’s concerns and the reality of what they’re concerned about. For example, voting in the U.S. remains entirely private and the choices individual citizens make at the ballot box are not accessible to anyone else, including government officials.

However, worries about the role of tech companies and social media sites in spreading misinformation should be taken seriously, as they’re grounded in some worrying truths. Fake news has been shared widely on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites in recent years, with some (though by no means all) of this traffic being generated by bots.

In fact, 28% of respondents to NordVPN’s survey said that they are following – or have retweeted a tweet – from an account that may have been a Twitter bot. The problem is that many people will never realize that they’re engaging with, or sharing content from, a bot account.

In short, voters should be concerned about the role of social media bots and online misinformation in any election, including the 2022 U.S. midterms.

Data harvesting and elections

Another area where people are right to be concerned is data collection. All political parties now use data about voters and their online habits to target advertisements, and they’re not alone in doing so. Governments, marketing companies, data brokers, and many other organizations are all eager to access your data and use it for their own ends, be they political or profit driven.

To wrestle control over your data back from these intrusive entities, we suggest using NordVPN to limit the extent to which your online activity can be monitored.

With NordVPN, your internet service provider is unable to monitor and sell your data to advertisers and other third parties. NordVPN also offers an additional Threat Protection Pro feature, a powerful suite of security and privacy tools which will block online adverts and limit cross-site tracking.

To enhance your privacy and security in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, get NordVPN and take control of your data.