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Connecticut Plans to Hire Misinformation Election Expert

The new position is part of the elections security and public information campaign run by the secretary of state. Republicans are calling it a partisan move. The specialist will earn an annual salary of $150,000.

(TNS) — Ahead of the 2020 election, Twitter users began sharing a post alleging that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots had overturned on Interstate 95 in Connecticut sending the ballots flying into the air and across the highway.

The inaccurate post was spotted by a consultant hired by Connecticut's secretary of the state to comb the Internet for election misinformation. After it was reported, Twitter removed the post from its site.

Election officials here and nationally are expecting similar falsehoods to proliferate ahead of this year's midterm elections. In Connecticut, the state plans to hire a full-time misinformation expert who will earn a salary of $150,000 — part of a $2 million election security and public information campaign by the SOTS.

"We need to know what's out there before it goes viral," said Scott Bates, deputy secretary of the state. "We need to get ahead of the curve and knock down bad information to protect people from misinformation that would get in their way of voting."

The person will monitor mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook but also fringe sites such as 4chan where false information is often "cooked up" before spreading on other sites, Bates said. The misinformation specialist will then reach out to social media companies about removing or flagging posts that contain lies about Connecticut's elections.

"We're looking for any information that might be wrong about the election process itself, nothing to do with issue sets or candidates, Bates said.

But some Republicans are already calling the hire a partisan move and have raised concerns about infringing on free speech. Ben Proto, chair of the state Republican Party, questioned how the person would determine what constitutes misinformation — a subjective process on its face.

"This seems highly political," Proto said. "This is just policing what is said about elections, and that's just wrong."

The SOTS website already has information readily available on how and where to vote, he added.

But Bates said election officials have to be proactive about informing the public how the election process works, particularly at a time of eroding public confidence in the Democratic process.

The state previously used federal funds to hire a consultant for $65,000 to monitor misinformation ahead of the 2020 general election. The federal money ran out, so Secretary of the State Denise Merrill lobbied state lawmakers for funding to create a full-time position, which was included in the state budget signed last month by Gov. Ned Lamont.

The $150,000 salary is based on average pay for an experienced cybersecurity professional, Bates said, noting the state must compete with the private sector for top talent. Bates said he is aware of two other states — California and Colorado — that have created similar positions.

"We believe every election cycle from here on out needs this," Bates said.

(c)2022 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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