Dayna Bowen Matthew’s podcast, “Testimony,” kicked off with an episode about voting rights ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
By Tatyana Hopkins
The chances of getting struck by lightning are higher than they are of someone casting a fraudulent ballot by mail, said GW Law professor Spencer Overton.
However, he said, misinformation about the potential for fraud in mail-in voting has been widely circulated on social media leading up to the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“That’s been put up by the Russians,” he said. “That’s been put out by President Trump.”
This type of misinformation, Mr. Overton said, presents a real danger to voting rights, racial equity and democracy.
“Misinformation discourages voters and leads to mistrust in the democratic process,” he said. “It happened in 2016, and we didn’t know what was happening.”
Mr. Overton spoke about the importance of protecting voting rights in the face of social media disinformation on “Testimony,” GW Law’s new podcast.
Hosted by Dayna Bowen Matthew, GW Law dean and Harold H. Greene professor of law, the new show features interviews with GW Law faculty experts to explain timely and important social issues making national headlines.
Mr. Overton’s appearance to discuss issues affecting the upcoming presidential election marked the first episode of the new series.
While encouraging Americans to vote in the election, he also urged Congress to make real democratic reforms to protect Americans from election misinformation regardless of who wins the election.
“Voters need to go out and vote,” he said. “They should develop a plan, whether it’s voting by mail or engaging in early voting or voting on election day in a way that is safe and sanitary. [And] the members of Congress need to step up to the plate here in terms of using their platform to communicate to social media platforms that they’re paying attention and that the [social media] platforms have to take this information down.”
Mr. Overton has testified multiple times before Congress, most recently urging them to protect Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in light of President Donald Trump’s efforts to rollback its effect.
The provision gives social media companies the power to remove obscene, excessively violent and otherwise objectionable content such as election disinformation without risk of legal liability.
While, Mr. Overton said, the Trump administration seeks to preserve the power of the platforms to remove obscene and excessively violent content, it seeks to eliminate their power to remove other types of objectionable content.
This he said, would make it harder for social media companies to regulate content, which could have a disproportionate impact on Black people, noting that social media has been used to target and suppress Black voters.
He noted that although African Americans only make up about 13 percent of the country’s population, almost 40 percent of the ads purchased as part of Russian election interference operations during the 2016 election were targeted toward Black social media audiences, some of which urged Black people to boycott the election.
Dr. Matthew said the new series will help spotlight the unique strength of the law school’s faculty to be not only influential in academia but to also be leading experts and impactful in a variety of applied contexts.
“We are in a time of real and constant change, and our job is to prepare our students to be ready to compete and to lead in the new normal,” she said. “As lawyers, we have the tools to help bring solutions to those problems, and I feel strongly that if we get those solutions right, we will never be here again.”
Currently, the first six episodes of “Testimony,” which cover administration law, the Supreme Court, racial justice, international relations and gun rights are available on SoundCloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.