Senate Pushes Big Tech to Share Disinformation Threat Info

The Republican-helmed Senate Intelligence Committee has released its final report on  Russian election meddling and one takeaway is that it was clearly no “hoax,” as the President has often suggested. Another is that social media was a major weapon in that assault on the U.S. and that Big Tech needs to work together more to prevent future meddling. 

The committee said some social media sites are already sharing info informally at the urging of the committee, but suggests there needs to be a less ad hoc approach. 

Related: Senate Intelligence Committee Says Russian Investigation Not Political

“Masquerading as Americans, Russian operatives 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 committee report says. “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 [which was Trump].” 

The committee recommends that social media platforms, like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, create information-sharing channels so they can better identify and defend against malicious attacks, including identifying platform vulnerabilities. 

It pointed out that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft “already maintain a common database of digital fingerprints identifying violent extremist videos,” which could be a model for cooperation on identifying other online threats. Other existing models include the Global Network Initiative for digital rights protection. 

In addition, at the committee’s urging, social media sites have already begun sharing info on an ad hoc basis. 

The report outlined other ways social media can become part of the solution, rather than the problem, including providing: 

1. Greater transparency about activity occurring on their platforms, including disclosure of automated accounts (i.e., bots); 

2. Greater context for users about why they see certain content;

3. The locational origin of content; and

4. Complete and timely public exposure of malign information operations.

It also recommends they be “consistent in proactively, clearly, and conspicuously notifying users that they have been exposed to these [disinformation] efforts” and “be more open to facilitating third-party research.” 

Democrats and Republicans looked at the overall report results very differently, at least in terms of what they chose to emphasize.  

“Over the last three years, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a bipartisan and thorough investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and undermine our democracy. We interviewed over 200 witnesses and reviewed over one million pages of documents. No probe into this matter has been more exhaustive,” said acting Intelligence Committee chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “We can say, without any hesitation, that the Committee found absolutely no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election.” 

But Rubio did concede it had found irrefutable evidence of Russian election meddling, as well as highlighting the conclusion that “Russia took advantage of members of the Transition Team’s relative inexperience in government, opposition to Obama Administration policies, and Trump’s desire to deepen ties with Russia to pursue unofficial channels through which Russia could conduct diplomacy.” 

“At nearly 1,000 pages, Volume 5 stands as the most comprehensive examination of ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign to date – a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives that is a very real counterintelligence threat to our elections,” Committee vice chair Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said of the report. “I encourage all Americans to carefully review the documented evidence of the unprecedented and massive intervention campaign waged on behalf of then-candidate Donald Trump by Russians and their operatives and to reach their own independent conclusions.”


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