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Senators warn of foreign social media meddling in US vote

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to warn the general public about efforts by international governments to intervene in U.S. elections, a topic he has largely prevented, and take steps to thwart makes an attempt by hostile nations to make use of social media to meddle within the 2020 presidential contest.

The suggestions got here in an 85-page report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating Russia’s large-scale effort to intervene within the 2016 presidential election. The senators described the social media actions of the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency in 2016 as a part of a “broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society.”

The senators famous the Russians’ social media effort was a “vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood,” with planning underway in 2014 when two Internet Research Agency operatives had been despatched to the U.S. to collect intelligence.

While a earlier evaluation indicated the Russian actions aspired to assist then-candidate Trump when potential, the Senate report went additional and mentioned the Russians’ social media marketing campaign was “overtly and almost invariably supportive” of Trump and designed to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton. Also focused by Russian social media efforts had been Trump’s Republican opponents — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Trump has been largely dismissive of Russian actions in 2016 and now faces an impeachment inquiry into whether or not he inappropriately solicited international election assist from Ukraine forward of the 2020 vote.

Tuesday’s report concluded the Russian actions had been centered largely on socially divisive points, similar to race, immigration and weapons, in “an attempt to pit Americans against one another and against their government.” It discovered Russian efforts focused black Americans greater than another group and the general exercise elevated quite than decreased after Election Day in 2016.

“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election,” mentioned North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the panel. “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.”

The senators warned that Russia will not be the one one posing a risk to U.S. elections, pointing to China, North Korea and Iran. The nation’s intelligence chiefs have warned about the specter of international interference within the upcoming 2020 election.

“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,” mentioned Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the panel’s high Democrat.

The report detailed efforts by the Russians to use tensions in American society, notably alongside racial traces. For occasion, over 66 % of the Internet Research Agency’s Facebook advertisements contained a time period associated to race and its Facebook pages had been focused to black Americans in key metropolitan areas.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat working for president, highlighted elements of the report on Twitter and urged lawmakers to take motion to forestall future interference.

“I think of America as a family_and like any family, we have issues. We have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation that we need to confront,” Harris wrote on Twitter. “But someone came into our house and inflamed these tensions to turn us against each other. We can’t let that happen again.”

In the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee recommends that the Trump administration “publicly reinforce” the hazard of makes an attempt by hostile nations to intervene within the 2020 election. It additionally requires the administration to develop a framework for deterring future assaults and to create an interagency job power to observe using social media by international governments for interference.

Senators additionally really useful social media corporations enhance coordination and cooperation with related authorities companies. In addition, they mentioned, Congress ought to take into account laws to make sure the general public is aware of the supply behind on-line political advertisements.

On Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled an election safety invoice that will require extra transparency in on-line political advertisements together with tightening legal guidelines across the alternate of marketing campaign data between candidates and international governments and requiring that campaigns report illicit presents of international assist to the FBI.

The House invoice would require TV stations, cable and satellite tv for pc suppliers and social media corporations similar to Facebook to make “reasonable efforts” to make sure political promoting will not be bought by individuals exterior of the U.S., both straight or not directly, partly by requiring that the client present a sound U.S. tackle.

This summer time, Facebook introduced it could be tightening its guidelines round political advertisements and requiring those that need to run advertisements pertaining to elections, politics or main social points to verify their identification and show they’re within the U.S. with a tax identification quantity or different authorities ID.

A separate House election safety measure handed the House originally of the yr, however Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to take it up. McConnell, nevertheless, has supported an effort to ship $250 million in extra election safety funds to states to shore up their programs forward of 2020.

“Today’s bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report makes it crystal clear to everyone that Vladimir Putin exploited social media to spread false information in the 2016 elections and that the Senate must take action to ensure Americans know who is behind online political ads to help prevent it from happening again,” mentioned Senate Democratic chief Chuck Schumer of New York.

An earlier report by the committee centered on efforts by the Russians to focus on state and native election programs.

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Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Follow the reporters on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AP_Christina and https://twitter.com/MCJalonick .

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