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Facebook, Twitter: Russian Actors Sought to Undermine Trump After Election

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on Oct. 31. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on Oct. 31. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Prior to the election, Russian government’s online meddling was focused on trying to ‘denigrate Secretary Clinton.’

Nancy Scola and Ashley Gold report: Top lawyers from Facebook and Twitter said Tuesday that Russian-linked posts and advertisements placed on the social networks after Election Day sought to sow doubt about President Donald Trump’s victory.

Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told a Senate Judiciary panel that content generated by a Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency after Nov. 8 centered on “fomenting discord about the validity of his [Trump’s] election.” That’s a change from Russia’s pre-election activity, which was largely centered on trying to denigrate Hillary Clinton, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a January report.

“During the election, they were trying to create discord between Americans, most of it directed against Clinton. After the election you saw Russian-tied groups and organizations trying to undermine President Trump’s legitimacy. Is that what you saw on Facebook?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked at the hearing.
Stretch and his Twitter counterpart, Sean Edgett, called that an “accurate” statement.

The disclosure opened up a new wrinkle in the continuing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which has increasingly focused on the role of the biggest internet companies. Tuesday’s hearing marks the first time Facebook, Google and Twitter have testified publicly about what they’ve learned about Kremlin meddling on their platforms in the presidential campaign. The companies face additional lawmaker scrutiny Wednesday with back-to-back hearings by the Senate and House Intelligence committees.

James Lewis, an international cyber policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the revelation about Russian anti-Trump activity on social media post-election fits with typical Kremlin information warfare efforts.

“Their goal is to create confusion and dissent. The target is the U.S. and NATO, not any particular candidate. They just want chaos,” Lewis said. “It went from being a grudge match against Clinton to what they thought was a priceless opportunity to inflict harm.”

The Silicon Valley giants have been slow to reckon with Russian use of social media to undermine American democracy. Days after the election — amid criticism that Facebook allowed the spread of hoax stories and misinformation — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it was a “pretty crazy idea” that fake news on Facebook influenced the vote. But as reports have piled up about Russian manipulation, Zuckerberg last month said he regretted being dismissive about the concerns, though he continued to argue that Facebook had a “far bigger” positive effect by giving people and candidates a place to communicate.

Democrats at the hearing homed in the harm done by online disinformation to their candidate, Clinton, when the election was still up for grabs.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) took Facebook’s general counsel to task for an ad featuring a kneeling soldier that ran during the campaign arguing that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to take control of the Army away from Clinton should she be elected president … (read more)

Source: POLITICO

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