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. The committee made a number of recommendations with this preface:
This challenge requires an integrated approach that brings together the public and private sectors. This approach must be rooted in protecting democratic values, including freedom of speech and the right to privacy. The Federal government, civil society, and the private sector, including social media and technology companies, each have an important role to play in deterring and defending against foreign influence operations that target the United States.
A. Industry Measures
- The Committee recommends that social media companies work to facilitate greater information sharing between the public and private sector, and among the social companies themselves about malicious activity and platform vulnerabilities that are exploited to spread disinformation. Formalized mechanisms for collaboration that facilitate content sharing among the social media platforms in order to defend against foreign disinformation, as occurred with violent extremist content online, should be fostered. As researchers have concluded: “Many disinformation campaigns and cyber threats do not just manipulate one platform; the information moves across various platforms or a cyber-attack threatens multiple companies’ network security and data integrity. There must be greater cooperation within the tech sector and between the tech sector and other stakeholders to address these issues.” The Committee agrees.
- This should not be a difficult step. Models for cooperation already exist and can be developed further:
- Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft already maintain a common database of digital fingerprints identifying violent extremist videos. These four companies also participate in a Cyberhate Problem-Solving Lab run by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Technology and Society.
- Dozens of tech companies participate in the Global Network Initiative, a tech policy forum devoted to protecting digital rights globally.
- Other examples include the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, whose goal is to substantially disrupt terrorists’ ability to disseminate violent extremist propaganda, and glorify real-world acts of violence; and the National Cyber Forensics and Training Alliance, a nonprofit partnership between industry, government, and academia that enables cooperation to disrupt cyber-crime. ·
- Two models from the world of financial intelligence are the UK’s Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce the United States’ Financial Crimes Enforcement. Exchange.
- At the urging of the Committee, social media companies have begun to share indicators, albeit on an ad hoc basis.
- The Committee further recommends that social media companies provide users with:
- Greater transparency about activity occurring on their platforms, including disclosure of automated accounts (i.e., bots);
- Greater context for users about why they see certain content;
- The locational origin of content; and,
- Complete and timely public exposure of malign information operations.
- Social media platforms are not consistent in proactively, clearly, and conspicuously notifying users that they have been exposed to these efforts, leaving those who have been exposed to the false information or accounts without the knowledge they need to better evaluate future social media content that they encounter. Notifications to individual users should be clearly stated, device neutral, and provide users all the information necessary to understanding the malicious nature of the social media content or accounts they were exposed to.
- Finally, the analytic and computational capabilities of outside researchers should be put to greater use by the social media companies. Although social media companies have released some data about the manipulation of their platforms by foreign actors, the Committee recommends that social media companies be more open to facilitating third-party research designed to assist them in defending their platforms from disinformation campaigns. The results of collaboration with outside researchers should be shared with users who have been exposed to disinformation.
B. Congressional Measures
- The Committee recommends that Congress· consider ways to facilitate productive coordination and cooperation between U.S. social media companies and the pertinent government agencies and departments, with respect to curtailing foreign influence operations that target Americans-to include examining laws that may impede that coordination and cooperation. Information sharing between the social media companies and law enforcement must improve, and in both directions. Data must be shared more quickly and in a more useful manner. This will improve the ability of social media companies to quickly identify and disclose malign !foreign influence operations to the( appropriate authorities, and it will improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to respond in a timely manner.
- Informal channels of communication may not be sufficient to accomplish this goal. As part of its examination, Congress must assess whether formalized information sharing between law enforcement and social media companies is useful and appropriate. Certain statutory models already exist, such as U.S. Code, Title 18, Section’ 2258A (Reporting requirements of providers). That section requires social media companies to report any apparent violations of laws relating to child sexual exploitation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC is a private, non-profit entity that serves a statutorily authorized clearinghouse role: it receives the providers’ reports, assesses the reports for criminality and threats to children, and refers them to the appropriate law enforcement authorities for action. Formalizing a relationship between social media companies and the government does present some legal considerations,300 but these should not be prohibitive.
- Further, the Committee recommends that Congress examine legislative approaches to ensuring Americans know the sources of online political advertisements. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 requires political advertisements on television, radio and satellite to disclose the sponsor of the advertisement. The same requirements should apply online. This
will also help to ensure that the IRA or any similarly situated actors cannot use paid advertisements for purposes of foreign interference.
- Finally, Congress should 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. Issues 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. In addition, Congress should monitor the extent to which social media companies provide users with information laid out in section A and, if necessary, take remedial steps.
C. Executive Branch Measures
- The Committee recommends that the Executive Branch should, in the run up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election.
- Addressing the challenge of disinformation in the long-term will ultimately need to be tackled by an informed and discerning population of citizens who are both alert to the threat and armed with the critical thinking skills necessary to protect against malicious influence. A public initiative-propelled by federal funding but led in large part by state and local education institutions-focused on building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy. Such an effort could benefit from the resources and knowledge of private sector technology companies.
- Additionally, and in concert with initiatives that heighten public awareness about disinformation, media organizations should establish guidelines for using social media accounts as sources, to guard against quoting falsified accounts or state-sponsored disinformation.
- The Committee further recommends that the Executive Branch stand up an interagency task force to continually monitor and assess foreign country’s use of social media platforms for democratic interference. The task force should periodically advise the public and Congress on its findings and issue annual reports providing recommendations to key actors, including executive branch departments and agencies, industry, and civil society. The task force should also develop a deterrence framework to inform U.S. Government responses to foreign influence efforts using social media.
- The Committee further recommends that the Executive Branch 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. The plan should provide standards for deciding who to notify and when, and should clearly delineate which agencies are responsible for making the notifications and to whom.
D. Other Measures
- The Committee recommends that candidates, campaigns, surrogates from campaigns, and other public figures engaged in political discourse on social media be judicious in scrutinizing the sources of information that they choose to share or promote online. Such public figures, precisely because of the reach of their networks, are valuable targets for adversaries, and can quickly be co-opted into inadvertently promoting a foreign influence operation.
- Amplification of foreign content, intentional or otherwise, is celebrated by those like the IRA, who wish to enflame our differences in order to advance their own interests. The Committee recommends that all Americans, and particularly those with a public platform, take on the responsibility of doing due diligence in their use of social media, so as to not give greater reach to those who seek to do our country harm.
- The Committee recommends the implementation of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign, potentially by the” social media industry or by government actors, that promotes informed social media behavior and raises awareness about various types of foreign influence and interference activity that is targeting American citizens, businesses, and institutions. Foreign influence campaigns that target social media users in the United States should receive similar attention to the dangers of smoking and the environmental risks of pollution. Broader exposure of specific foreign government linkages to social media content and influence activities would handicap the effectiveness of information operations.