Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,
Russian Interference in the 2016 Election
The unanimous Committee found extensive Russian disinformation campaigns on social media during the 2016 election and thereafter. It expects more of the same and in a more sophisticated fashion during the 2020 presidential contest.
The Russian social media campaign during the Republican primaries was to elect Donald Trump and defeat Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. The Russian social media campaign during the Democratic primaries was to defeat Hillary Clinton and promote Bernie Sanders. During the general election, it was to elect Donald Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton. It sought to encourage Democratic voters, particularly African Americans, to vote for Jill Stein or stay home. The volume and reach of the Russian social media disinformation campaign was staggering. It heavily targeted evangelicals on the right and African Americans on the left.
It used the following wedge issues: race, immigration and Second Amendment gun rights. It sought to promote extremist views on both the left and right, to promote social and political divisiveness, and to breed and deepen distrust of the mainstream media.
Interestingly, its disinformation campaigns were more widely viewed than the true news in the media. For example, the single most viewed piece of election news was the blatant falsehood from the disinformation campaign that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump. In addition, viewers tended to believe the first piece of news they saw, and the disinformation campaign was consistently first and fastest in publishing and spreading its falsehoods.
The social media companies were unaware of the use of their internet services for this campaign. The US intelligence services became aware of it quite late and did not inform the American people until well after the election. Prominent news organizations reported on the false news from the Russian disinformation campaign as if it were accurate. Prominent Trump campaigners, such as Donald Trump Jr. Michael Flynn and Kellyanne Conway, shared the false Russian news with their millions of followers, oblivious to its origins or its falsity. The Trump campaign unwittingly provided campaign materials and other logisial assistance to the Russian organized campaign rallies in Texas, Florida and elsewhere.
The Senate Committee identified three types of Americans who worked wittingly or unwittingly with the Russian efforts: 1) useful idiots, 2) fellow travelers, and 3) agents provocateurs.
The Senate Committee’s recommendations addressed the social media companies, Congress and the Executive Branch. It suggested that the companies increase their vigilance, identify, label and disclose these efforts from other nations as they become known. It suggested that the Executive Branch notify the campaigns and the public about the disinformation campaigns and falsehoods coming from foreign governments in the context of US elections. Congress should require the social media companies to share their findings and actions about such disinformation campaigns with each other and with the public authorities.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin