Bipartisan Senate Report Calls for Sweeping Changes to Prevent Interference in 2020 Election

October 8, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday urged both Congress and the Trump administration to take sweeping action to ensure social media sites aren’t used as platforms for interference in the 2020 presidential election.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

In a new 85-page report, the committee found that activities carried out by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency on social media “overtly and almost invariably supportive” of Trump and was part of a broader attempt to sow discord in American politics by exploiting divisions on social issues.

The Senate panel also found that Russia’s efforts to create friction in the fabric of American society increased rather than decreased after Election Day in 2016 and targeted black Americans more than any other group or demographic.

“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee’s chairman, in a written statement. “Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government. By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans.”

But the senators also warn that Russia isn’t the only country that currently poses a threat to U.S. elections, pointing specifically to China, Iran and North Korea.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said 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.

“Now, with the 2020 elections on the horizon, there’s no doubt that bad actors will continue to try to weaponize the scale and reach of social media platforms to erode public confidence and foster chaos,” he continued. “The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic adversaries to expand upon – and their techniques will only get more sophisticated.”

In the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee recommends that the Trump administration and congressional leaders publicly “reinforce” the danger of attempts by hostile nations to interfere in the 2020 election.

It also calls for the administration to develop a framework for deterring future attacks and to create an interagency task force to monitor the use of social media by foreign governments for interference.

“As was made clear in 2016, we cannot expect social media companies to take adequate precautions on their own,” Sen. Warner said. “Congress must step up and establish guardrails to protect the integrity of our democracy. At minimum, we need to demand transparency around social media to prevent our adversaries from hiding in its shadows. We also need to give Americans more control over their data and how it’s used, and make sure that they know who’s really bankrolling the political ads coming across their screens.

“Additionally, we need to take measures to guarantee that companies are identifying inauthentic user accounts and pages, and appropriately handling defamatory or synthetic content,” the senator continued. “It’s our responsibility to listen to the warnings of our Intelligence Community and take steps to prevent future attacks from being waged on our own social media platforms.”

The Committee released the first volume of its Russia investigation in July 2019. You can read, “Volume I: Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure,” here.

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