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Second Senate Intel committee report confirms Russia social media campaign to influence 2016 election, skewer Clinton

Emotet is Back and Spamming Again

In the wake of a controversial call between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Urkaine and even as some of President Trump’s supporters in Congress push a narrative that corrupt forces in Ukraine were behind 2016 election meddling, the second of a five-part bipartisan report from the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed Russia was behind a sweeping social media campaign to influence the election by supporting Trump and skewering rival Hillary Clinton.

“In 2016, Russian operatives associated with the St.
Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) used social media to conduct an
information warfare campaign designed to spread disinformation and societal
division in the United States,” the report

“The bipartisan work that
this committee has done to uncover and detail the extent of that effort has
significantly advanced the public’s understanding of how, in 2016, Russia took
advantage of our openness and innovation, exploiting American-bred social media
platforms to spread disinformation, divide the public, and undermine our
democracy,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the committee.

Noting that operatives masquerading as Americans “used
targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, self-generated
content, and social media platform tools to interact with and attempt to
deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States,” the report
said. “This campaign sought to polarize Americans on the basis of societal,
ideological, and racial differences, provoked real world events, and was part
of a foreign government’s covert support of Russia’s favored candidate in the
U.S. presidential election.”

The report describes an “information warfare campaign” that “was
broad in scope and entailed objectives beyond the result of the 2016
presidential election” to ultimately achieve Russia’s goals “‘to undermine
public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and
harm her electability and potential presidency,’” as the January 2017
Intelligence Community Assessment had determined. But the second installment of
the Senate report found that the operatives’ efforts went beyond the IC
assessment that the “Russian government ‘aspired to help President-elect
Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and
publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,’” and instead “IRA social media
activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump,
and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.”

Those efforts haven’t abated.
“Russia is waging an
information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end
with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and
erode public confidence in the machinery of government,” said Committee Chairman
Richard Burr, D-tk. “By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy
theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to
breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans.”

With the 2020 elections approaching,
Warner said, “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.

And although Russia might
have “the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this
report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea, and Iran, are
following suit,” said Burr.

“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 Warner.

The Virginia senator said Congress can’t “expect social media
companies to take adequate precautions on their own” and “must step up and
establish guardrails to protect the integrity of our democracy.”

At a minimum, Congress must
“demand transparency around social media to prevent our adversaries from hiding
in its shadows,” said Warner. “We also need to give Americans more control over
their data and how it’s used, and make sure that they know who’s really
bankrolling the political ads coming across their screens. Additionally, we
need to take measures to guarantee that companies are identifying inauthentic
user accounts and pages, and appropriately handling defamatory or synthetic

Burr cautioned that solutions going forward had “to balance America’s
national security interests with our constitutionally-protected right to free
speech” and called for  social media
companies, federal agencies, law enforcement, and Congress to “work together to
address these challenges.”

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