Social media analysts: Public information campaign needed to combat Russian disinformation

Social media analysts: Public information campaign needed to combat Russian disinformation

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WASHINGTON — Social media analysts told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that a public information campaign is necessary to combat Russian disinformation.

“There is a need to build resilience in target populations. This will include a long-term effort to implement media literacy training and integrate such training into classrooms,” said Todd Helmus, a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation.

“We recommend immediate action to identify and eliminate malign influence campaigns, and to educate the public in preparation for the 2018 elections,” said Renee DiResta, who is director of research at New Knowledge.

“Users need more context from the origin of the information and why they see it, including disclosure of automated accounts while protecting anonymity,” said Laura Rosenberger, director, Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

During the 2016 U.S. election cycle, Russia created thousands of fake ads and accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to try and manipulate American voters.

Many of the ads targeted African-American and Latino voters. The ads were aimed at inflaming racial tensions and depressing minority turnout. Fake ads told voters that polling places had moved and that votes could be cast via email or text message.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it removed 32 accounts that had been compromised by Russian disinformation. In April Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress  that Facebook has made progress identifying and combatting data breaches but that more work remains.

Facebook sold data from millions of its users to the now-defunct data mining company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica gave the information to a Russian data mining scientist.

Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said practical solutions are needed to thwart Russian disinformation.

“We can’t afford ineffective half-measures, let alone doing nothing at all,” he said.

Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he is concerned Russia can so easily engage in sabotage.

“For just pennies on the dollar, they [Russia] can wreak havoc in our society and in our elections,” he said.

Last month the U.S. Justice Department indicted 12 Russians on charges related to the 2016 email hacking of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and 20 state election boards.

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