Russian Troll Farm Just the Tip of a Misinformation Iceberg
The GRU, Russia's intelligence agency, is "probably better at hiding their tracks than the IRA is, and I think that [suggests] this is probably just one tip of the iceberg of what we're looking at," said Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, who pointed to IRA efforts on Reddit and Tumblr, in addition to Facebook and Twitter.
Senators quizzed the witnesses—who also included Dr. Todd Helmus, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, and Dr. Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute—on whether the US is doing enough to combat foreign hacking and influence efforts, which countries besides Russia might be targeting the US, and what the US should do to those found attacking us. Dr. Howard said his research has "found evidence of formally organized social media manipulation campaigns in 48 countries, up from 28 countries" in 2017.
Of note are the efforts of Turkey, China, Hungary, and Iran, but seven authoritarian regimes have budgets for misinformation campaigns, many of which are targeted at democracies like the US, UK, Canada, and Germany, according to Dr. Howard. "Dictators learn from each other," he said. After Russia, China has the "next best capacity" for hacking and misinformation campaigns, but has not yet "set American voters in their sights" Dr. Howard said. China's more focused on Taiwan and the Chinese diaspora. When asked if any countries have been able to effectively combat Russian hackers, Rosenberger pointed to Germany and France.
Ultimately, social media users need to pay attention. That means all of us. During the 2016 campaign, "there was a one-to-one ratio of junk news to professional news shared by voters over Twitter," according to Dr. Howard's research. "In other words, for every one link to a story produced by a professional news organization, there was one link to content that was extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, or [another] form of junk news."
On Sept. 5, a formal Senate Intel hearing is scheduled where representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google are expected to appear.
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