October 12, 2020
As the 2020 elections approach, concerns over the use of disinformation similar to those efforts seen in the 2016 election cycle are growing. On October 1, the Arizona Supreme Court's Task Force on Countering Disinformation released its report on how that state's judiciary can contend with these issues.
The Arizona report was the result of a 2019 workshop on countering disinformation produced by the National Center for State Courts and Suzanne Spaulding, senior advisor for homeland security and director of the Defending Democratic Institutions project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The workshop was based on her report Beyond the Ballot: How the Kremlin Works to Undermine the U.S. Justice System. As a recent article in the ABA Journal put it:
To combat Russian and other disinformation campaigns, CSIS and the ABA have teamed up with the National Center for State Courts to host virtual workshops for state court leaders and employees across the country. The participants from each state are urged to form rapid-response teams and develop playbooks outlining how they will confront both foreign and domestic information warfare. The workshops, which include tabletop exercises, emphasize that it’s best to focus on the facts when responding to disinformation with messages distributed to the public and media.
“There is no way you can put the genie back in the bottle after the tsunami has hit the shore,” says Mary McQueen, president of the NCSC. “What we can do, though, is say, ‘This is how courts work. This is how they evaluate the information. This is a jury trial where your colleagues out in the community are making decisions about this case.’”
Among the Arizona Task Force's recommendations:
- Establish in-person and web-based court contacts and outreach to help the public and the media understand the role of the court and the function of the judicial branch, and to help counteract and respond to disinformation at the local level.
- Modify the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct to specifically address personal attacks against judges.
- Establish a “Rapid Response Team” to address situations where disinformation targeting a judicial branch individual, a court, or a court system occurs and publish a comment to the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.10 to provide guidance as to how and when such instances should be addressed.
- Monitor technology and resources that can identify disinformation campaigns early enough to counter them with accurate information and gather public contact information to improve courts’ outreach and responsiveness.
How is your court addressing disinformation? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences. For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.