Cybersecurity & Tech Democracy & Elections

FBI & CISA Warn of 'Foreign-Backed Online Journals' Spreading Election Disinformation

Rohini Kurup
Friday, October 2, 2020, 3:41 PM

The FBI and CISA issued another public service announcement on Thursday, warning of the potential threat posed by foreign actors spreading disinformation about the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued another public service announcement on Thursday, Oct. 1, warning of the potential threat posed by foreign actors spreading disinformation about the 2020 U.S. presidential elections. The most recent alert warns that foreign intelligence services are likely to use “foreign-backed online journals” to spread articles with misleading or unsubstantiated information. These tactics may be employed to manipulate public opinion, cause confusion and undermine public trust in the electoral process and U.S. institutions, according to the alert.

Earlier this week the FBI and CISA issued an alert about disinformation around claims of “hacked voter information.”

The public service announcement can be read here and below:


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) are issuing this announcement to raise awareness of the potential threat posed by foreign-backed online journals that spread disinformation regarding the 2020 elections. Foreign intelligence services have been known to use websites, including pseudo-academic online journals, to disseminate articles with misleading or unsubstantiated information. Such sites could be employed during the 2020 election season in an attempt to manipulate public opinion, increase societal divisions, cause widespread confusion, discredit the electoral process, and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.

Foreign intelligence services have used online journals, including some with a global reach, to exacerbate disunity and dysfunction in the United States while also misinforming or misleading readers. Foreign governments have used these journals to amplify their disinformation and overt propaganda, and they have used websites, social media, and other online platforms to amplify the journals' messages and increase their global reach.

As foreign actors intensify their efforts to influence the outcome of the 2020 U.S. elections, they could use online journals to advance and launder misinformation and disinformation to denigrate or support specific candidates or political parties. Foreign actors could also use online journals to target the U.S. elections by making claims of voter suppression, amplifying reports of real or alleged cyberattacks on election infrastructure, asserting voter or ballot fraud, and spreading other information intended to convince the public of the elections' illegitimacy.


  • Seek out information from trustworthy sources, verify who produced the content, and consider their intent.
  • Rely on state and local election officials as the authoritative sources of information about how elections are conducted in their jurisdictions.
  • Verify through multiple reliable sources any reports about problems in voting or election results, and consider searching for other reliable sources before sharing such information via social media or other avenues.
  • Report potential election crimes—such as disinformation about the manner, time, or place of voting—to the FBI.
  • If appropriate, make use of in-platform tools offered by social media companies for reporting suspicious posts that appear to be spreading false or inconsistent information about election-related problems or results.
  • The FBI and CISA urge the American public to critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information. The FBI is responsible for investigating malign foreign influence operations and malicious cyber activity targeting election infrastructure and other U.S. democratic institutions. CISA is responsible for protecting the nation's critical infrastructure from physical and cyber threats. The FBI and CISA provide services and information to uphold the security, integrity, and resiliency of the U.S. electoral processes.


The FBI encourages the public to report information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local field office ( or to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center ( For additional assistance, best practices, and common terms, please visit the following websites:

  • Protected Voices:
  • Election Crimes and Security:
  • #Protect2020:

Rohini Kurup is a J.D. candidate at the University of Virginia School of Law. Prior to law school, she worked as an associate editor of Lawfare and a research analyst at the Brookings Institution. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College.

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