Russian social-media-interference operations “active and ongoing”: Senate Intel Committee

One of the report’s authors, Oxford Internet Institute director Phil Howard, told the Senate committee on 1 August that his team of researchers at Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project found three strategies “that Russian operators employ” when they seek to influence U.S. voters.

One strategy was to polarize voters on particular issues with the goal of getting “groups of voters to confront each other angrily, over social media and in the streets,” Howard testified.

Another strategy was social media campaigns that “promote or discredit particular senators, presidential candidates, and other public figures,” he said.

Finally, Howard said, Russia’s disinformation campaigns sought “to discourage citizens from voting” if they were “voters who might support a candidate” that the Kremlin found unpalatable.

For example, voters are often told that voting day has been postponed, or that they can text message their vote in, or that their polling station has moved,” Howard said.

Russia’s active measures campaign on-going
The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said:

Increasingly, we’ve seen how social media platforms intended to foster open dialogues can be used by hostile foreign actors seeking to manipulate and subvert public opinion. This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions. Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped. As we work to address these threats, these reports are proof positive that one of the most important things we can do is increase information sharing between the social media companies who can identify disinformation campaigns and the third-party experts who can analyze them.

The ranking member of the committee, Senator Marc Warner (D-Virginia), said:

These reports demonstrate the extent to which the Russians exploited the fault lines of our society to divide Americans in an attempt to undermine and manipulate our democracy. These attacks against our country were much more comprehensive, calculating and widespread than previously revealed. This should stand as a wake-up call to us all that none of us are immune from this threat, and it is time to get serious in addressing this challenge.  That is going to require some much-needed and long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media.  I hope these reports will spur legislative action in the Congress and provide additional clarity to the American public about Russia’s assault on our democracy.

The Committee said that the third-party reports released Monday are based in part on data provided by the Committee under its Technical Advisory Group, whose members serve to provide substantive technical and expert advice on topics of importance to ongoing Committee activity and oversight. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions presented within are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Senate Intelligence Committee or its Membership.

Separate from the Technical Advisory Group, the Committee is conducting an ongoing investigation into the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. As part of its investigation, the Committee has held several open hearings on the use of social media by foreign influence campaigns, including recent hearings with third-party experts in August 2018 and social media company officials in September 2018. The Committee will release its own report on social media with its findings as an installment of its investigation.

— Read more in Renee DiResta et al., The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency (New Knowledge, December 2018)