How the Cyberworld Enhances and Undermines Elections

Jiayi Young art project using election tweets

With the midterm elections just a few days away, several faculty members provided insights into how messy, self-reflective and fact-free political conversations can get online; ways art can help us understand the magnitude of social media on elections; and how easy it is to hack voter information.

Kristopher Fallon, assistant professor of cinema and digital media, spoke about the “marketplace of ideas.” The marketplace may be a good way to sort out which cars and sodas live or die, but it’s not such a great place for ideas. While the digital world has made this a golden age for the free exchange of ideas and information, it has also made it easy to flood the marketplace with bad ideas and lies, ijiayi young tweet-based artworkdncluding — and especially — during elections.

Jiayi Young, an assistant professor of design, presented information about her recent art installation What Does the Bot Say to the Human? The installation was a sensory manifestation of how the campaign and election played out in cyberspace. It used millions of tweets and retweets related to the 2016 presidential election and turned them into an art installation made of IV bags and tubes, LED lights and sound generators.

Alison Ledgerwood, a psychology professor, talked about “confirmation bias,” the tendency for individuals to seek out information that confirms what they already believe. These biases get magnified online because algorithms analyze what we’re interested in and send along similar information. For example, someone who “likes” or “shares” social media posts from Candidate X or visits Candidate X’s website will received alerts and links from others in the same camp as Candidate X.

Matt Bishop, a computer science professor in the College of Engineering, spoke about election security and the secret ballot in the computer age. Voter registration databases have proven vulnerable to hacking, and voting online can be easily disrupted. The second edition of Bishop’s book Computer Security: Art and Science will be released in late November.

The presentations were part of an Oct. 30 panel discussion, “Technology and Democracy,” organized by the UC DavisHumanities Institute in the College of Letters and Science