Matthew Masterson




Election security analyst

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Matthew Masterson is a member of the left-of-center advisory group National Task Force on Election Crises, and frequent author for the Virality Project, a think tank designed to assess and control the flow of ideas and information disseminated to the general public through social media.

Masterson is the former senior cybersecurity advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, as well as a former policy fellow at the Stanford Internet Observatory. After being nominated by then-President Barack Obama, Masterson was a commissioner U.S. Election Assistance Commission from 2014 until 2018. He was responsible for designing the 2015 and 2017 updates to the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, a set of metrics designed to ensure the functionality, security, and accessibility of local voting systems. 1 2

Disinformation Center Proposal

In his July 2021 op-ed “The Case for a Mis- and Disinformation Center of Excellence,” Masterson called for the creation of a governmental entity tasked with “reducing the supply of mis- and disinformation by making it less prevalent in our information spaces, and reducing the demand for mis- and disinformation by “inoculating” the public against it.” Masterson called for this new task force to be housed in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, where it would be able to exercise broad federal control over the flow of information, especially on social media. 3

This idea resembled a move taken by the administration of President Joe Biden (D), which created a Disinformation Governance Board which would monitor social media information. However, the project was paused in May 2022 following a fierce backlash from Republican politicians including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA); public critics dubbed the new board “The Ministry of Truth” in reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. 4

Virality Project

The Virality Project is a think tank created to study the rapid, or “viral,” spread of ideas that lead to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.  This project was formed in 2021 with the cooperation of several research institutions including Graphika, Stanford Internet Observatory, and the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. In April 2022 Virality Project published the results of its findings, along with recommendations for future action, in a paper entitled Memes, Magnets, and Microchips: Narrative Dynamics Around COVID-19 Vaccines. The paper assigns some of the blame for misinformation to foreign influence, naming China, Russia, and Iran as malefactors. It also attempts to draw connections between individuals who have expressed vaccine hesitancy (even before the COVID-19 pandemic) and those who questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, diagnosing both these worldviews as symptoms of disinformation, and stating that the promotion of these two ideas is strategically similar. 5

To combat unwanted trends, Virality Project suggests a varied, comprehensive approach. It echoes Masterson’s call for a Disinformation Center of Excellence to be housed within the federal government and calls for wider use of “Rumor Control Page” programs to which the public can be referred to receive official information updates on trending topics. Prior to the publication of this study, Masterson co-wrote a blueprint for the design and implementation of such Rumor Control Pages. 6

The study also recommends addressing information control in “underserved” communities by deploying influencers and celebrities that such groups are likely to trust and recommends building relationships with these individuals well in advance of crises. 7

Election Commission Reforms

Masterson lamented a decrease in available election officials following the 2020 election, saying that election officers faced harassment and blaming this situation on President Donald Trump’s “spread[ing] of lies and conspiracy theories.” As a solution, Masterson recommends the creation of “state-based task forces” to ensure the protection of election officials, as well as the governmental use of civil legal action against anyone who “threatened or intimidated” an election administrator in their official capacity. He then goes on to acknowledge that such legislation could be “misused,” and therefore must be “carefully crafted.” 8

Similar ideas appeared in his co-authorship of the Stanford Internet Observatory paper “Zero Trust: How to Secure American Elections When the Losers Won’t Accept They Lost.” That document also called for a reform of the Election Security Administration. 9


  1. “Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines.” EAC. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  2. “Former Commissioner Matthew Masterson.” EAC. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  3. Masterson, Matthew, et al. “The Case for a Mis- and Disinformation Center of Excellence.” Virality Project. July 8, 2021. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  4. Fung, Katherine. “Biden Gives Republicans Win on ‘Ministry of Truth.’” Newsweek. May 18, 2022. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  5. Masterson, Matthew et al. “Memes, Magnets, and Microchips: Narrative Dynamics Around COVID-19 Vaccines.” April 26, 2022. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  6. Masterson, Matthew et al. “Rumor Control: A Framework for Countering Vaccine Misinformation.” Virality Project. May 4, 2021. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  7. Masterson, Matthew, et al. “Memes, Magnets, and Microchips: Narrative Dynamics Around COVID-19 Vaccines.” April 26, 2022. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  8. Masterson, Matthew, et al. “State and Local Solutions are Integral to Protect Election Officials and Democracy.” Just Security. February 9, 2022. Accessed June 6, 2022.
  9. Masterson, Matthew, et al. “Zero Trust: How to Secure American Elections When the Losers Won’t Accept They Lost.” Stanford Internet Observatory. 2021. Accessed June 6, 2022.
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