- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Russia’s information warfare campaign on social media in the U.S. extended far beyond involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a report released Tuesday by the Senate intelligence committee.

The committee determined that Russia’s targeting of the presidential election was part of a “vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood,” according to the bipartisan report.

The Russians wanted to continue to “sow discord in American politics and society” well afterward too, according to findings contained in the second volume of the committee’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Russian meddling in the election, including troll farms that spun out propaganda on social media, contributed to allegations that President Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin, claims that were not substantiated by formal special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

The report upheld the original intelligence community assessment that Russia, thorough the Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), attempted to impact the 2016 election by hurting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and helping Mr. Trump.

But the Russian effort went much further.

“The committee found that the IRA’s information warfare campaign was broad in scope and entailed objectives beyond the results of the 2016 presidential election,” said the report.

The Russian campaign concentrated on inflaming racial tensions and targeted blacks more than any other group, with more than 66% of its Facebook advertising content including terms related to race.

One of the IRA’s top-performing pages, “Blacktivist,” generated 11.2 million engagements with Facebook users.

The Russians used issues such as race and immigration to “pit Americans against one another and against their government,” said the report.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said the report confirmed that Russia exploited racism, which she described as “America’s Achilles’ heel.”

She also accused Mr. Trump of helping Russia to divide the country.

“Let’s be frank. It’s time for Trump to stop using Twitter to play into our adversaries’ hands,” she said. “With every deranged tweet, he advances foreign interests by dividing Americans. Social media companies must account for the role they play in amplifying Trump’s dangerous rhetoric.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, California Democrat, blamed his Republican counterpart for not doing enough to combat another misinformation campaign by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hindered a full response ahead of the 2016 elections and continues to block a full-throated U.S. response today by burying meaningful election security bills in his legislative graveyard,” he said. “What will it take for Sen. McConnell to finally let the Senate do the people’s business and protect the integrity of American democracy?”

The Republican-led committee recommended combating Russian information warfare by improving coordination between social media companies and the 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,” said Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and the panel chairman.

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