A bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that Russia directed an aggressive social media campaign to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and warns similar efforts to interfere in U.S. politics are still under way.
The report, two years in the making, found that the Kremlin-directed Internet Research Agency “was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign,” and targeted through social media African Americans more than any other group.
Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said the Russian interference campaign hasn’t ended and other adversaries are engaged in similar attacks.
“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election,” he said. “Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government.”
Burr said Russia floods social media with false reports, conspiracy theories and trolls to breed distrust. “While Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea, and Iran, are following suit.”
Top panel Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia warned of more interference to come in next year’s election. “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.
Warner said Congress should act to require transparency from social media companies and disclosure of political ads online.
The committee had previously released portions of its analysis. The findings parallel the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies and parts of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Among the findings were efforts by the Kremlin-directed IRA to convert social media into real-world actions. Operatives posing as U.S. political activists also “sought help from the Trump campaign to procure campaign materials and to organize and promote rallies.”
Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the Trump administration to “publicly reinforce the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election” and suggested creating a task force to monitor foreign nations’ social media interference efforts and develop a framework for deterrence.
The committee also recommended that social media companies share more information about election interference among themselves, as they have with extremist content, and share it as well with government agencies and researchers. It also called for more publicity around the existence of influence operations.
The report also urged that lawmakers consider expanding to social media the existing transparency requirements for political advertising on TV or the radio. Facebook, Google and Twitter have all put together ad transparency databases, but differences between them persist and legislative vehicles, such as the Honest Ads Act that Warner supports, have stalled.
Senator Kamala Harris, a member of the Intelligence Committee who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the Russian tactics were “designed to suppress the votes of black Americans in particular” and said social media companies must step up their efforts to fight disinformation. 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.”