Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) questions witnesses about Russian interference in U.S. elections at the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017.   REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Senator
Mark Warner (D-VA) questions witnesses about Russian interference
in U.S. elections at the Senate Intelligence Committee in
Washington

Thomson
Reuters


Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner said
Thursday that the purchase of $100,000
worth of Facebook ads from Russian-linked
accounts
 during the 2016 election was only “the tip
of the iceberg.”

Warner said during a panel event hosted by the
Intelligence and National Security Alliance that it may be
time to pass legislation requiring that social media companies
disclose the sources of campaign-related ads, and that he wants
to see “the backend” of Facebook’s ad operations during the
election.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is currently
investigating Russia’s election interference, carried out via
hacks on the Democratic National Committee
and a fake-news campaign targeting Hillary
Clinton and Democrats across various social media
platforms.

Days after Trump won the election, Facebook CEO Mark
Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that the
platform had been used to manipulate voters as
pretty
crazy
.” 
 

But Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex
Stamos, said in a
statement
 Wednesday that after a months-long review, the
company found that “approximately $100,000 in ad spending
from June of 2015 to May of 2017 — associated with roughly 3,000
ads — [was] connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages
in violation of our policies.”

Facebook found upon analyzing those accounts and pages
that they “were affiliated with one another and likely operated
out of Russia.”

Americans “ought to be able to know if there is
foreign-sponsored [internet] content coming into their electoral
process,” Warner said at Thursday. “That becomes a method of
influence exponentially, I would argue, bigger than TV and
radio.”

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the
House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday
that he, too, is “keenly interested in Russia’s use of social
media platforms, both the use of bots and trolls to spread
disinformation and propaganda, including through the use of paid
online advertising.”

An ‘army of well-paid trolls’

Schiff said he also wants to know how sophisticated the ads
were — in terms of their content and whom they targeted — to
determine whether they had any help from the Trump campaign, he
told MSNBC on Thursday morning. 

Facebook said in its statement that about 25% of the
ads purchased by Russians “were 
geographically
targeted.” Facebook representatives told lawmakers behind closed
doors Wednesday that the ad sales had been traced back to a
notorious Russian “troll factory,” according to
The Washington Post. 

Warner said Thursday that while “we know about the hacking,
as a former tech guy, what really concerns me is that there were
upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of Russia
taking over computers, making botnets, and generating news down
to specific areas.”

Freelance journalist Adrian Chen, now a staff writer at The
New Yorker, researched Russia’s “army of well-paid trolls” for an
explosive New
York Times Magazine exposé
 published in June 2015 — and
found that many of the trolls he had been monitoring “turned into
conservative accounts, like fake conservatives” as the election
progressed. 

“I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re all tweeting
about Donald Trump and stuff,” Chen told
Longform
‘s Max Linsky in a podcast in December 2015.

Linsky asked Chen who he thought “was paying for that.”

“I don’t know,” Chen replied. “I feel like it’s some kind of
really opaque strategy of electing Donald Trump to undermine the
US or something. Like false-flag kind of thing. You know, that’s
how I started thinking about all this stuff after being in
Russia.”

In his research from St. Petersburg, Chen discovered that Russian
internet trolls — paid by the Kremlin to spread false information
on the internet — have been behind a number of “highly
coordinated campaigns” to deceive the American public.

It’s a brand of information warfare, known as
“dezinformatsiya,” that has been used by the Russians since
at least the Cold War. The disinformation campaigns are only one
“active measure” tool used by Russian intelligence to sow
discord among, and within, allies perceived hostile to
Russia.

“Part of our responsibility is to put the American public
on a higher level of alert that, this time it was Russia, but it
could be other foreign nations as well,” Warner said
Thursday

. “We are in a whole new realm around cyber
that provides opportunities — but also huge, huge threats for
basic democracy.”