Politics

Senators to Hear from Social Media Experts on Foreign Influence Operations

Hearing part of a flurry of Senate activity to curb Russian election interference in wake of Helsinki summit

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senators on the Intelligence Committee are set to get a 101 lesson on foreign influence operations from social media experts next week, as Congress wrestles with how to reel in President Donald Trump, who some lawmakers have said is being manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia have scheduled an open hearing for next Wednesday, Aug. 1, to examine how foreign intelligence agencies conduct influence campaigns in the U.S. through various social media platforms.

Since Trump’s widely criticized summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland last week, there has been a flurry of activity in both chambers to reaffirm that Russia is a foreign adversary that must be held accountable for its destabilizing foreign policy in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and interfering in the 2016 election. Those measures range from symbolic resolutions backing U.S. intelligence agencies and their employees to a new sanctions package for Russia.

The president later walked back comments he made at a joint press conference with Putin during the summit where he said he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia who interfered in the election.

He has since said he has “full faith” in the U.S. intelligence apparatus, which is in multi-agency agreement that Russia conducted extensive influence operations in 2016 and will likely deploy similar tactics in the 2018 midterm elections.

At a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting last November, Facebook officials revealed that the Russian campaign reached 146 million Americans on its platforms, which include Facebook and Instagram.

Two months before that hearing, Facebook turned over to Congress more than 3,000 advertisements on its site from 470 fake accounts and pages run by the Internet Research Agency, a group based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Those advertisements preyed on homophobic and racist tendencies and divided voters on 2016 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The panelists speaking who will answer the senators’ questions next week are Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States; Oxford Internet Institute director Philip Howard; and Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge.

The hearing is at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 1, in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

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