Warren proposes criminalizing disinformation about voting in U.S.

WASHINGTON, USA – Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday, January 29 proposed civil and criminal penalties for those who knowingly spread false information about when and how to vote in US elections.

The proposal is part of a broader plan to combat disinformation, in which she also accuses major tech companies of contributing to its spread in their drive for profits, and calls for them to take action to combat it.

The 2016 presidential election that brought Donald Trump to office was plagued by rampant disinformation, including well-documented efforts by Russia to influence the vote, and there are fears that such efforts will be replicated this year. (READ: Instagram a prime target for disinformation in 2020 U.S. elections)

"In both the 2016 and 2018 elections, online disinformation sought to depress voter turnout by telling people they could vote via text, giving people the wrong date for election day, and more," Warren said in her plan. (READ: Disinformation agents are targeting veterans in run-up to 2020 election)

"I will push for new laws that impose tough civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating this kind of information, which has the explicit purpose of undermining the basic right to vote," she said.

In addition to penalties for disseminating false information about voting, Warren calls for tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google to "to take real steps right now to fight disinformation."

"The safety of our democracy is more important than shareholder dividends and CEO salaries, and we need tech companies to behave accordingly," Warren said.

She calls for steps including a coordinated effort by the government and tech companies to address disinformation, alerts for users affected by it, the labeling of content from state-controlled organizations, and "clear consequences" for accounts that try to interfere with voting.

"One of the most harmful forms of political disinformation on social media is false information aimed at keeping people from exercising their right to vote," Warren said.

Warren has been a sharp critic of big tech companies, and has called for major platforms to be broken up.

The US senator from Massachusetts also pledged that she and her campaign will stay away from disinformation as she vies to take on Trump in November.

"I'm sending a clear message to anyone associated with the Warren campaign: I will not tolerate the use of false information or false accounts to attack my opponents, promote my campaign, or undermine our elections," she said.

"And I urge my fellow candidates to do the same." – Rappler.com