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Why the Census Bureau is establishing a “Trust & Safety” team

By Dr. Ron S. Jarmin, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, US Census | 12/22/2019, 11:06 p.m.
The 2020 Census is a nationwide count of all people living in the United States that occurs only once every ...

The 2020 Census is a nationwide count of all people living in the United States that occurs only once every ten years. At the U.S. Census Bureau, we are devoting great resources, energy and passion to educating the public about the upcoming 2020 Census. We are joined in our efforts by thousands of partners, supporters and stakeholders across the country, including state, local and tribal governments; schools; places people worship; faith-based groups and community organizations; businesses; and others.

The decennial census informs how hundreds of billions of dollars flow into communities every year for things like health clinics, transportation improvements and schools, as well as representation in Congress. As we educate the public about how the census shapes the future of communities, we also remind everyone that the census is easy to complete and, most importantly, safe.

We want people to respond in confidence knowing the census is safe and important, but without knowing the facts, some people may hesitate to respond in March. This could affect the accuracy of its results. If people get the wrong information about the 2020 Census — intentionally or unintentionally — it poses a problem for all of us.

The spread of misinformation (incorrect information spread unintentionally) and disinformation (incorrect information spread intentionally) about the 2020 Census is something we are actively fighting. We want the public to have the correct information so they can participate in the census and shape their future and the future of their community. That is why we are pooling our communications and external resources together into a unified Census Bureau Trust & Safety Team to ensure the public is properly educated on how the 2020 Census affects everyone.

Unfortunately, many of the same digital and social channels that the Census Bureau and 2020 Census partners and stakeholders will use to motivate people to respond to the census can also be used to share misinformation or disinformation in attempts to dissuade people from responding.

Scammers, criminals, fraudsters, online trolls, unscrupulous opportunists and malicious actors are potential sources of disinformation that we expect to face with the 2020 Census. Even benign misinformation carries significant risk. Urban legends spread faster online through social media than ever before, and sometimes, friendly supporters of the 2020 Census and well-meaning groups accidentally spread misinformation when the information they have is incorrect.

The Census Bureau’s Trust & Safety Team coordinates and integrates our efforts with external technology and social media platforms, partner and stakeholder organizations, and cybersecurity officials. It enables us to work together across the public and private sectors to protect the 2020 Census and make sure the information you receive about the 2020 Census is factual and accurate.

Leveraging best practices from the public and private sectors, the Trust & Safety Team monitors all available channels and open platforms for misinformation and disinformation about the census. Monitoring allows us to respond quickly to combat potential threats to achieving an accurate count in traditional media, social media and other stakeholder communications. As we discover misinformation and disinformation, the team will coordinate the responses with partners and stakeholders.