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Rubio Statement on Senate Intel Committee Release of Russia’s Use of Social Media in Second Volume of Bipartisan Russia Report

Oct 8, 2019 | Press Releases

Miami, FL — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a statement regarding the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report titled, “Russia’s Use of Social Media,” the second volume in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections. 

“The second installment of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, which focuses on Russia’s use of social media, details the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency’s effort to exploit social media to wage Putin’s information warfare campaign and influence the 2016 election,” Rubio said. “The Committee’s report is bipartisan, detailed, and offers specific recommendations. Those interested in real solutions instead of the cycle of daily drama will find it useful.”

The new report examines Russia’s efforts to use social media to sow societal discord and influence the outcome of the 2016 election, led by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA). The analysis draws on data provided to the Committee by social media companies and input from a Technical Advisory Group comprising experts in social media network analysis, disinformation campaigns, and the technical analysis of complex data sets and images to discern the dissemination of disinformation across social media platforms. 

Rubio is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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 and Rubio’s statement on that report here.

You can read, “Volume II: Russia’s Use of Social Media,” here.

Key Findings and Recommendations:

  • The Committee found that the IRA 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. The Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.  
  • The IRA’s targeting of the 2016 U.S. election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society. While the IRA exploited election-related content, the majority of its operations focused on exacerbating existing tensions on socially divisive issues, including race, immigration, and Second Amendment rights.
  • The Committee found the IRA targeted African-Americans more than any other group or demographic. Through individual posts, location targeting, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and Twitter trends, the IRA focused much of its efforts on stoking divisions around hot-button issues with racial undertones.  
  • The IRA engaged with unwitting Americans to further its reach beyond the digital realm and into real-world activities. For example, IRA operatives targeting African-Americans convinced individuals to sign petitions, share personal information, and teach self-defense courses. Posing as U.S. political activists, operatives sought help from the Trump Campaign to procure campaign materials and to organize and promote rallies. 
  • The Committee found IRA activity increased, rather than decreased, after Election Day 2016. Analysis of IRA-associated accounts shows a significant spike in activity after the election, increasing across Instagram (238 percent), Facebook (59 percent), Twitter (52 percent), and YouTube (84 percent). Researchers continue to uncover IRA-associated accounts that spread malicious content. 
  • The Committee recommends social media companies work to facilitate greater information sharing between the public and private sector. Because information warfare campaigns are waged across a variety of platforms, communication between individual companies, government authorities, and law enforcement is essential for fully assessing and responding to them. Additionally, social media companies do not consistently provide a notification or guidance to users who have been exposed to inauthentic accounts.
  • The Committee recommends Congress consider ways to facilitate productive coordination and cooperation between social media companies and relevant government agencies. Congress should consider whether any existing laws may hinder cooperation and whether information sharing should be formalized. The Committee also recommends Congress consider legislation to ensure Americans know the source behind online political advertisements, similar to existing requirements for television, radio, and satellite ads. 
  • The Committee recommends the Executive Branch publicly reinforce the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election. The Executive Branch should establish an interagency task force to monitor foreign nations’ use of social media platforms for democratic interference and develop a deterrence framework. A public initiative to increase media literacy and a public service announcement (PSA) campaign could also help inform voters.  
  • The Committee recommends candidates, campaigns, and other public figures scrutinize sourcing before sharing or promoting new content within their social media network. All Americans should approach social media responsibly to prevent giving “greater reach to those who seek to do our country harm.” The Committee recommends that media organizations establish clear guidelines for using social media accounts as sources to prevent the spread of state-sponsored disinformation.