Influence campaignsRussia’s influence campaign can “wreak havoc in our society and in our elections”

Published 3 August 2018

On Wednesday, 1 August, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee convened an open hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media platforms. “Twenty-one months after the 2016 election – and only three months before the 2018 elections – Russian-backed operatives continue to infiltrate and manipulate social media to hijack the national conversation and set Americans against each other. They were doing it in 2016. They are still doing it today,” Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), vice-chairman of the committee said. “These active measures have two things in common: They are effective. And they are cheap. For just pennies on the dollar, they can wreak havoc in our society and in our elections. I’m concerned that even after 18 months of study, we are still only scratching the surface when it comes to Russia’s information warfare.”

On Wednesday, 1 August, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee convened an open hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media platforms, featuring the testimony of social media experts.

The experts appearing before the Committee included Dr. Todd Helmus, Senior Behavioral Scientist at RAND Corporation, Renee DiResta, Director of Research at New Knowledge, Dr. John Kelly, Founder and CEO of Graphika, Laura Rosenberger, Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at The German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute.

Today, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Virginia)

“Today, we learned that foreign campaigns to sow discord and disinformation through social media began well before the 2016 U.S. elections and continue to this day,” said Burr following the hearing. “The Kremlin began testing this capability in Russia years before using it against the United States and our allies. Their aim is to use American freedoms, values and rights against our society and to undermine faith in our democratic process. Their mistake is believing our rights are a weakness, when in fact they are our strength. The task before us is preserving those rights, including the right to free speech, while defending them against a hostile foreign power. The Senate Intelligence Committee is uniquely positioned to foster this critical conversation between the intelligence community, Congress and technology leaders, and we will continue pursuing this question over the coming months.”

“Russian information warfare in the 2016 election has helped to reveal the dark underbelly of social media,” said Warner. “The same tools that so successfully spread disinformation in 2016 can be used to negatively affect our lives in countless ways. This Committee’s investigation and actions to date have helped pressure the social media companies to admit the problem and begin to take steps to address the threat on their platforms; however, as we heard today, they still have a lot of work to do.  I hope the leadership from Google, Facebook, and Twitter will take this seriously and come prepared with ideas for how they will better protect our democratic processes moving forward.”