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Watch out for Super Tuesday disinformation, US intelligence agencies warn

The FBI, DHS, NSA and Justice Department, among other US agencies, are warning the public to be alert for disinformation on Super Tuesday.

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Electronic voting machine

Super Tuesday, on March 3, will see 14 states voting for their preferred Democratic nominee. 

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET's coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

As millions of US voters head to the polls on Super Tuesday, the US intelligence community is warning the public to keep an eye out for online disinformation. 

In a joint statement, the intelligence community said it's been working to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 US presidential election, but "voters have a role to play too." The statement was issued by the FBI, the NSA, the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as well as the acting Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of Defense, US Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The statement comes just a day before Super Tuesday, when voters in 14 states head to the ballot box to select a candidate who could face President Donald Trump in the November presidential election. The March 3 polls are a pivotal moment in the Democratic Party's nominating process, and could be a vulnerable spot for disinformation efforts.  

While the agencies have been working with local election officials to protect votes from getting hacked, disinformation has the potential to spread on social media. In 2018, the DHS said its biggest election concern wasn't hackers messing with voting machines, but rather disinformation that could follow the voting

"Americans must also remain aware that foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions," the joint statement said. "They spread false information and propaganda about political processes and candidates on social media in hopes to cause confusion and create doubt in our system." 

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The warning comes the same day that Facebook announced that it had removed hundreds of fake accounts tied to marketing firms in India and Egypt, with one campaign targeting audiences in the US.  

Election interference has been a major concern for intelligence agencies. Russian operatives demonstrated through coordinated social media campaigns and cyberattacks that a nation-state could meddle with another country's election during the 2016 race for the White House. 

In the last four years, DHS has ramped up its efforts to secure the 2020 election, offering cybersecurity evaluations for local voting and focusing on helping county officials. Tech giants have also worked with the government agencies to help tackle disinformation online, often hosting meetings to discuss their security efforts

Google, Facebook and Twitter didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Disinformation poses a unique risk for the US agencies working to protect elections from foreign meddling, since you don't have to actually hack the vote to interfere with democracy. During disinformation campaigns in 2016, researchers found that Russian actors posing as Americans were providing the wrong polling dates and discouraging people from going to vote.

Monday's joint statement urged voters to check their registration and know ahead of time when to vote, where to vote and whether or not the state they're voting in requires identification. 

"Your state or local election official's office is the most trusted source for election material," the statement said. "A well-informed and vigilant republic is the best defense against disinformation."