WASHINGTON — As President Trump amplifies unsubstantiated claims of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed on Tuesday that Russian operatives engaged in a widespread social media campaign to improve his chances in the race.
In a report, the committee backed up the conclusions of the intelligence community, the special counsel and researchers that Russia mounted a broad campaign to interfere in the election. A Russian troll farm central to the election campaign supported "Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin," the committee said.
The panel said Congress should consider new disclosure requirements for political ads online, which unlike television or radio ads do not need to carry information about who paid for them. A bill introduced in 2017 by the top Democrat on the committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, to put into effect new rules for online ads has failed to gain much momentum.
The report is nonetheless the latest call for lawmakers to reconsider the lax system of regulations that governs Silicon Valley, as Americans have learned more about the way platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be used to make money off users' personal information and to spread disinformation.
"Issues such as privacy rules, identity validation, transparency in how data is collected and used, and monitoring for inauthentic or malign content, among others, deserve continued examination," the committee said.
But lawmakers have little time to advance legislation meant to stem election interference on social media — or to check Silicon Valley more broadly — before the 2020 election. Capitol Hill has been seized in recent weeks by an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump, making the normally difficult task of forging bipartisan consensus on other issues even more challenging.
The lawmakers also called for the Trump administration to take steps to respond to the threat, including setting up a task force of federal agencies to monitor attempts by foreign governments to interfere with democratic processes on social media.
"The committee recommends that the executive branch should, in the run-up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election," the panel said.
But Mr. Trump has long tried to play down or deny Russia's role in the 2016 election. On a call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the core of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump suggested that Ukraine might have played a part in efforts to sway the race.
That conspiracy theory runs counter to the conclusion published Tuesday by the Intelligence Committee: Operatives at the Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, used a wide range of online platforms to share content they felt could drive a wedge through the American electorate to influence the presidential election.
"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," Mr. Warner said in a statement.
Russian operatives running the campaign used a wide variety of platforms, from giants like Facebook and Instagram to smaller players like LiveJournal, a once-popular American blogging service now owned by a Russian firm.
The committee's report backed the conclusion of outside researchers that African-Americans had been a significant target of Russia's persuasion efforts. Its report said the "committee found that no single group of Americans was targeted by I.R.A. information operatives more than African-Americans."
It also highlighted that Russian activity had actually increased after Election Day 2016. Internet Research Agency activity went up 59 percent on Facebook, 238 percent on its subsidiary Instagram, 84 percent on YouTube and 52 percent on Twitter after the election, it said.
"Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn't start and didn't end with the 2016 election," said Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the committee.
Tech companies have taken additional steps since 2016 to weed out attempts at foreign interference using illicit accounts. Their dragnet has spread far beyond Russia: Facebook and Twitter recently took down accountsoriginating in China that had pushed messages meant to discredit protesters in Hong Kong.
The committee said major tech companies should work together and with government officials to share information crucial to combating disinformation.
"We're working closely with governments, outside experts and other companies to identify threats and share information," Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement. "We have also invested in technology and people to block and remove fake accounts; find and remove coordinated manipulation campaigns; and bring unprecedented transparency to political advertising."
David McCabe, New York Times, October 8, 2019
October 9, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. This is critical. The bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Senator Richard Burr, reaffirmed on Tuesday that Russia interfered in our 2016 election, with more of the same planned for 2020. #TrumpIsIllegitimate #StopPutinNow #StopPutinsPuppet