U.S. Senate Panel Blasts Russian
Election Meddling, Efforts To 'Sow Discord'
October 9, 2019
A bipartisan U.S. Senate report on Russia's use of social media has
determined that a Kremlin-backed "troll farm" sought to boost the
campaign of Donald Trump and hurt rival Hilary Clinton, largely backing
up the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community.
The Intelligence Committee's report released on October 8 also said the
work of the Internet Research Agency (IRA) "was part of a broader,
sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow
discord in American politics and society.”
While the conclusions echo those made by other U.S. agencies and panels,
the bipartisan nature of the Senate report is likely to carry additional
weight amid continued denials by Trump and his supporters that Russia
sought to boost his 2016 presidential campaign.
The IRA, a St. Petersburg-based organization known as the Russian "troll
farm," is owned by the Kremlin-connected businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin
and was also mentioned repeatedly by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller
in his investigation into Russian election interference.
Washington has imposed sanctions on several entities and people
associated with the IRA, including Prigozhin, for its actions.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016
campaign in an "influence campaign" ordered by Russian President
Vladimir Putin in an attempt to help eventual winner Trump and denigrate
Clinton, his Democratic rival on the November 8 ballot.
Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling, completed earlier this
year, largely supported those findings.
Trump has denied allegations he colluded with Russians in the effort,
calling the investigation into the matter a "hoax" and a "witch hunt."
Putin has denied that Moscow meddled in the U.S. political system.
'Sowing Societal Discord'
Republican Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Intelligence Committee,
said in a statement summarizing the bipartisan study that "Russia is
waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t
start and didn't end with the 2016 election."
"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. While
Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics
outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North
Korea, and Iran, are following suit," he added.
Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the panel, warned of continuing and
future efforts by the Kremlin to meddle in U.S. elections.
"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 said.
"The Russian playbook is out in the open for other foreign and domestic
adversaries to expand upon -- and their techniques will only get more
The report also concluded that the Russian effort targeted
African-Americans more than any other U.S. group during the presidential
"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," it
The study also found that Russia's efforts to meddle increased, rather
than decreased, following Election Day in November 2016.
Among the recommendations, it said social media networks must work
harder to allow for greater information sharing between the public and
private sector to prevent abuses in the future, and it called for
Congress to "facilitate productive coordination" with regard to the
"Social media companies do not consistently provide a notification or
guidance to users who have been exposed to inauthentic accounts," it
said Congress should consider legislation to ensure that U.S. citizens
know the source behind online political advertisements, referring to
similar requirements for television, radio, and other ads that currently
The committee also recommended that the U.S. administration publicly
reinforce the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020
election. Trump has been accused by critics of not doing enough to
prevent further meddling.
The report said the administration "should establish an interagency task
force to monitor foreign nations' use of social media platforms for
democratic interference and develop a deterrence framework."
It also said candidates, campaigns, and other public figures should
scrutinize sourcing before sharing or promoting new content within their
own social media network.