WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the release of the declassified summary of “Russia’s Use of Social Media,” the second volume of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is calling for sweeping action on election security.
"This chapter provides a detailed look at how Russia weaponized social media to divide Americans and degrade our democratic institutions,” said Sen. Heinrich, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The Committee’s investigation highlights that Russia’s assault on our social media platforms increased after the 2016 elections and continues today. Though the 2020 election is over a year away, voters’ minds are being shaped now – even as Russia continues its campaign to exploit divisions, amplify unfounded rumors, and degrade trust in our democracy. Yet instead of recognizing this ongoing threat, the president has opened the door to Russia’s information warfare campaign – not only by refusing to acknowledge Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections but also by touting debunked conspiracy theories to defend the president’s own indefensible actions in Ukraine, providing fuel for Russian disinformation efforts.
"Right now, Russia and other hostile foreign actors are manipulating social media in an effort to influence the outcome of the 2020 election and sow deeper divisions among the American people. We need sweeping action to protect our elections and a comprehensive effort – with social media companies, Congress, federal agencies, and law enforcement working together – to push back on disinformation and false narratives. Until we set up stronger protections of our election systems and take the necessary steps to prevent future foreign intervention, our nation's democratic institutions will remain vulnerable to attack," continued Sen. Heinrich.
The Committee’s investigation revealed “a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood” and only the “latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin.” Among the Committee’s key findings and recommendations:
- The Internet Research Agency (IRA) – tasked and supported by the Russian government – 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;
- Russia’s targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader, sophisticated information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society – a campaign that is ongoing and increasingly brazen;
- The IRA targeted not only Hillary Clinton, but also Republican candidates – particularly those with adversarial views toward the Kremlin – during the presidential primaries;
- No single group of Americans was targeted by IRA information operatives more than African Americans;
- The IRA coopted unwitting Americans to engage in offline activities such as signing petitions and sharing personal information;
- IRA activity on social media increased after the U.S. 2016 elections;
- The Committee recommends greater information sharing between social media companies and the public, and among social media companies themselves about malicious activity and platform vulnerabilities;
- The Committee recommends that Congress consider ways to facilitate productive coordination and cooperation between social media companies and relevant government agencies;
- The Committee recommends that the Executive Branch reinforce with the public the danger of foreign interference in the 2020 election, to include leading a public initiative to increase media literacy; and
- The Committee recommends that candidates and campaigns and others engaged in political discourse on social media be judicious in scrutinizing the sources of information they share or promote online.
The Committee has held five open hearings on Russia’s use of social media, including a September 2018 open hearing with Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey. In December 2018, the Committee released two independent analyses of IRA activity, produced by New Knowledge and Graphika and the University of Oxford.
The Committee released the first volume of its Russia investigation in July 2019. You can read, “Volume I: Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure,” here.
You can read, “Volume II: Russia’s Use of Social Media,” here.