Senators warn of foreign social media meddling in U.S

Cheryl Sanders
October 11, 2019

The Senate Intelligence Committee's 2016 election investigation report said a sweeping social media manipulation campaign by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) represented "overt support of Russia's favoured candidate in the USA presidential election".

The report corroborates past findings by researchers and the intelligence community that the notorious Internet Research Agency troll farm, as the committee wrote, "sought to influence the 2016 US presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton's chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin".

The committee called on candidates running for office and their campaigns to more carefully probe the information they share on social media to prevent the spread of election-related disinformation - an effort Democratic presidential candidates say has been under siege by Trump and his campaign's postings on Ukraine and other issues.

The committee found that Russian social media activity "was overtly and nearly invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign".

Using Facebook pages, Instagram content and Twitter posts, Russian information operatives working for the Internet Research Agency had an "overwhelming operational emphasis on race ... no single group of Americans was targeted ... more than African Americans".

"The committee found that the IRA's information warfare campaign was broad in scope and entailed objectives beyond the results of the 2016 presidential election", the report said.

Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said the Russian interference campaign hasn't ended and other adversaries are engaged in similar attacks.

"By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russian Federation is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans", Burr said.

It also confirmed that the highest echelons of the Russian government directed the IRA's efforts.

On Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled an election security bill that would require more transparency in online political ads along with tightening laws around the exchange of campaign information between candidates and foreign governments and requiring that campaigns report illicit offers of foreign help to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee recommends that the Trump administration "publicly reinforce" the danger of attempts by hostile nations to interfere in the 2020 election.

Both the new Senate Intel report and the Mueller report found that online disinformation and inflammatory content spilled over into the real world, with "unwitting Americans" participating in real-life demonstrations orchestrated on social media.

Russian meddling in the election, including troll farms that spun out propaganda on social media, contributed to allegations that President Trump's campaign colluded with the Kremlin to rig the election. McConnell, however, has supported an effort to send $250 million in additional election security funds to states to shore up their systems ahead of 2020. "There's no doubt that bad actors will continue to try to weaponize the scale and reach of social media platforms to erode public confidence and foster chaos", he said.

"The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic adversaries to expand upon - and their techniques will only get more sophisticated", said Virginia Sen. She said they need to "ensure their workforces are diverse enough to identify and understand the cultural nuances that foreign actors exploit to divide and harm Americans".

Last month, Harris called on Twitter to suspend Trump's twitter account after his attacks on the anonymous whistleblower who came forward recently alleging election interference efforts by Trump. "We can't let that happen again".

The bipartisan report is the latest confirmation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which Trump still hasn't unequivocally acknowledged. "What we need to do now is address these facts with a common objective - to protect our democracy and make sure our election systems are resilient against future attacks".

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