Recently, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second of five planned volumes detailing its findings and recommendations arising from Russia’s actions during the 2016 U.S. election. Notably, the Senate Intelligence Committee broke with the Intelligence Community’s finding that Russian efforts were mostly aimed against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; rather the Committee found the Russian social media campaign “was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.” The committee found that there was a dedicated campaign to suppress African American voting. Moreover, paid advertisements were the lesser part of Russian efforts. The committee has found that Russian hackers continue to post divisive, misleading, and false messages on social media to further foment unrest and division in the U.S.
The committee called on the tech industry to ramp up information sharing efforts, increase the information consumers are provided with regarding the source and veracity of social media posts, and allow researchers and presumably U.S. intelligence agencies greater access to the data held by companies like Twitter and Facebook to better track and counter the efforts of countries like Russia. In terms of legislative action, the committee recommended that Congress pass legislation to remove obstacles to the sharing of information between social media and government agencies, to create a clearinghouse of such information, and to continue to “examine the full panoply of issues surrounding social media, particularly those items that may have some impact on the ability of users to masquerade as others and provide inauthentic content…such as privacy rules, identity validation, transparency in how data is collected and used, and monitoring for inauthentic or malign content, among others, deserve continued examination.” However, the committee did not call for the passage of privacy, data security, or election security legislation. The committee is recommending that the executive branch launch a public awareness initiative “focused on building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy,” “stand up an interagency task force to continually monitor and assess foreign country’s use of social media platforms for democratic interference,” and “develop a clear plan for notifying candidates, parties, or others associated with elections when those individuals or groups have been the victim of a foreign country’s use of social media platforms to interfere in an election.”
Notably, the only dissenting views appended to the second volume are those of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who placed the blame firmly on weak data security and privacy laws in the U.S. that allow social media platforms to be used to target certain slices of the populations:
Broad, effective data security and privacy policies, implemented across the platforms and enforced by a tough, competent government regulator, are necessary to prevent the loss of consumers’ data and the abuse of that data in election influence campaigns. Congress should pass legislation that addresses this concern in three respects. First, the Federal Trade. Commission must be given the power to set baseline data security and privacy rules for companies that store or share Americans’ data, as well as the authority and resources to fine companies that violate those rules, Second; companies should be obligated to disclose how consumer information is collected and shared and provide consumers the names of every individual or institution with whom their data has been Third, consumers must be given the ability to easily opt out of commercial data sharing.
None of the committee Republicans disputed the report’s findings or recommendations.