Washington, D.C. —The Senate Intelligence Committee released the second volume in its investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election.
The report, released on October 8, 2019 and titled “Volume II: Russia’s Use of Social Media”, compiled from classified and unclassified sources and analyzed by the Intelligence Committee, exposes Russian efforts on social media to influence political dialogue by impersonating Americans.
U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) stated, “This detailed, bipartisan report adds further incontrovertible proof to what we have long known to be true: Russia was relentless in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. It is also evident that Russia is continuing to use social media in a covert attempt to influence public debate, shape Americans’ political views, and undermine our democratic institutions,”
“This report demonstrates how imperative it is that Congress take strong action to deter foreign nations from attempting to disrupt our elections. In addition, it reinforces the need to move forward with securing our electoral process, the cornerstone of our democracy. In FY18, Congress approved $380 million for election security grants, and I am pleased that the Senate recently included an additional $250 million in the FY20 Financial Services and General Government funding bill to improve the security of our elections.”
Senator Angus King (I-ME) explained, “Today’s report is thorough, bipartisan, and clear: Russia engaged in a sophisticated effort to interfere in the 2016 election, and social media was one of the major tools they used to try to sow discord, manipulate voters, and amplify disputes,”
“I urge the American people to review our findings and approach social platforms with more skepticism — because the best way to guard against future disinformation attempts is for our voters to know when they’re being conned by a foreign power. These attacks strike at the heart of our democracy, and we can spare no effort to protect ourselves in 2020 and beyond. The report is clear that we need a forceful response – both with our actions and our words. Two important steps we should take immediately: the Senate must pass stronger election security legislation, and the President must stop using his office and his pulpit to invite further foreign involvement in American elections.”
Key Findings from the report, as posted at Sen. Angus King’s website, were:
The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin. The Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.
The Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) targeting of the 2016 U.S. election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society. While the IRA exploited election-related content, the majority of its operations focused on exacerbating existing tensions on socially divisive issues, including race, immigration, and Second Amendment rights.
The Committee found the IRA targeted African-Americans more than any other group or demographic. Through individual posts, location targeting, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and Twitter trends, the IRA focused much of its efforts on stoking divisions around hot-button issues with racial undertones.
The IRA engaged with unwitting Americans to further its reach beyond the digital realm and into real-world activities. For example, IRA operatives targeting African-Americans convinced individuals to sign petitions, share personal information, and teach self-defense courses. Posing as U.S. political activists, operatives sought help from the Trump Campaign to procure campaign materials and to organize and promote rallies.
The Committee found IRA activity increased, rather than decreased, after Election Day 2016. Analysis of IRA-associated accounts shows a significant spike in activity after the election, increasing across Instagram (238 percent), Facebook (59 percent), Twitter (52 percent), and YouTube (84 percent). Researchers continue to uncover IRA-associated accounts that spread malicious content.
The Committee recommends social media companies work to facilitate greater information sharing between the public and private sector. Because information warfare campaigns are waged across a variety of platforms, communication between individual companies, government authorities, and law enforcement is essential for fully assessing and responding to them. Additionally, social media companies do not consistently provide a notification or guidance to users who have been exposed to inauthentic accounts.
The Committee recommends Congress consider ways to facilitate productive coordination and cooperation between social media companies and relevant government agencies. Congress should consider whether any existing laws may hinder cooperation and whether information sharing should be formalized. The Committee also recommends Congress consider legislation to ensure Americans know the source behind online political advertisements, similar to existing requirements for television, radio, and satellite ads.
The Committee recommends the Executive Branch publicly reinforce the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election. The Executive Branch should establish an interagency task force to monitor foreign nations’ use of social media platforms for democratic interference and develop a deterrence framework. A public initiative to increase media literacy and a public service announcement (PSA) campaign could also help inform voters.
The Committee recommends candidates, campaigns, and other public figures scrutinize sourcing before sharing or promoting new content within their social media network. All Americans should approach social media responsibly to prevent giving “greater reach to those who seek to do our country harm.” The Committee recommends that media organizations establish clear guidelines for using social media accounts as sources to prevent the spread of state-sponsored disinformation.
You can download the full report here