- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Russian operatives who ran Facebook ads surrounding last year’s election ran four times as many ads in Maryland — a deep-blue state — than they did on the critical swing state of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said Wednesday.

Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, also said of the 55 ads run in Wisconsin — costing less than $2,000 total — almost all were run even before the primary, and none mentioned then-candidate Donald Trump by name, suggesting they were less about attacking the president and more about sowing chaos.

Kicking off a hearing with executives from Silicon Valley’s leading social media and tech companies — Facebook, Google and Twitter — Mr. Burr said the narrative that Russian-backer operatives worked to boost Mr. Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in last year’s election was false.

“I understand the urge to make this story simple,” said Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the committee. “But that’s biased.”

Later in the day, the firms will face questions from the House Intelligence committee’s Russian election meddling probe.

On Tuesday, executives from the firms took a grilling from a Senate judiciary subcommittee over Russian election interference. They were seen to fail to convince lawmakers that a similar propaganda push by the Kremlin could be stopped before America’s next election.

On Wednesday, Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s lead Democrat, aimed his opening statement directly at the Kremlin.

“Russian operatives are attempting to infiltrate and manipulate American social media to hijack the national conversation and to make Americans angry, to set us against ourselves and to undermine our democracy,” the Virginia Democrat said. “They are still doing it now, and not one of us is doing enough to stop it.”

He then lashed out at Facebook for a continued lack of responsiveness to the committee’s efforts to obtain data from the social media behemoth.

“I have more than a little bit of frustration that many of us on this committee have been raising this issue since the beginning of this year, and our claims were frankly blown off by the leadership of your companies,” Mr. Warner said.

During testimony from Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, the social media firm attempted to push back.

“We’ve provided all the information we can about the content that we’ve identified on the system,” Mr. Stretch responded.

Mr. Warner also drilled down into the dynamics of the Kremlin propaganda operation.

“For Facebook, much of the attention has been focused on the paid ads Russian trolls targeted to Americans,” he said. “However, these ads are just the tip of a very large iceberg. The real story is the amount of misinformation and divisive content that was pushed for free on Russian-backed pages, which then spread widely on the news feeds of tens of millions of Americans.”

To highlight his point, he showed a blow-up of Facebook posts that circulated featuring an illustration of Jesus and Hillary Clinton in a fistfight — the type of ad and posts that Russians promoted to divide America.

Expectations are running high for a scheduled release of copies of 3,000 Russian-bought Facebook ads later Wednesday by the House Intelligence committee.

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