(New York)—PEN America issued the statement below in response to developments in the presidential campaign related to fraudulent news and disinformation:

“In our report Truth on the Ballot: Fraudulent News, the Midterm Elections, and Prospects for 2020, PEN America sounded an alarm that fraudulent news and online disinformation are becoming normalized, and that such tactics could all too easily distort our elections. Already in the 2020 presidential campaign we see examples of just how insidious and complicated these manipulations can be, and how important it is that voters be alert and discerning about the information they take in.  A fake Joe Biden campaign website created by a Trump campaign consultant and an apparently coordinated effort on Twitter to falsely discredit Sen. Kamala Harris’ right to reflect on the experience of black Americans, amplified by Donald Trump, Jr., among others, spotlight the threat. While the false Biden website is labeled as a parody–something PEN America does not consider to be disinformation–and little of the content itself could be called fraudulent, there is also no way for a reader to know the individual behind the site is a sophisticated political actor who works on the Trump campaign.”

“Similarly, while Donald Trump, Jr. has the right to say what he likes on Twitter, as a public figure connected to the Trump campaign with millions of followers, he has a responsibility to carefully consider the information he elevates.  Both examples demonstrate the risks involved in the proliferation of efforts to deceive the voting public, and the difficulty of even challenging such practices without serving to further their dissemination.  It also serves as a critical reminder that all of us who consume information online must be vigilant in assessing the authenticity of what we read, watch, and share.  In our report, PEN America called on campaigns and candidates to make a commitment to upholding the value of truth in our political discourse, and to refrain from ‘creating, disseminating, promoting, or encouraging fraudulent news.’ While some campaigns–including former Vice President Biden’s–have taken positive steps in this direction, it is critical that prominent political figures take seriously their role in ensuring disinformation and deception do not become the norm in our political debate.” 


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org


Contact: PEN America media consultant Suzanne Trimel, strimel@pen.org