Russia Continues To Use Social Media To Influence Public Opinion In The U.S.

Sep 28, 2017
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The 2016 election is over, and yet Russia is still using social media to influence public opinion in the U.S. about all sorts of things.

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JAMES LANKFORD: Even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms and their internet folks start hashtagging out take a knee and also hashtagging out boycott NFL.

CHANG: That's Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And that committee met with representatives of Twitter today on Capitol Hill to discuss these Russian troll farms. Joining me now to talk about all of this is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So the whole world was tweeting up a storm about the NFL and taking a knee and all of that. And apparently Russian bots were, too. Why does that matter?

LUCAS: Well, this is a very divisive topic in the U.S. right now. You have people on the left who are supporting the protests and the right to protest and people on the right who are saying you should stand for the national anthem and the flag. This has been an issue that's cut both ways in American society.

CHANG: Sure.

LUCAS: And if the Russians are fueling that by pushing both sides of this issue on social media, they're trying to make this more divisive. And so what that does is kind of tears at the fabric of American society.

CHANG: So what were lawmakers wanting to hear then from these Twitter representatives?

LUCAS: So I spoke with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill today. Here's what Adam Schiff, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me.

ADAM SCHIFF: What we don't know yet is the full extent of their use of social media. I think we only have a small subset and a limited picture at this point. We also don't know and we're continuing to investigate whether there was any coordination in the Russian social media effort with the Trump campaign.

LUCAS: So what we do know - and this is from what U.S. intelligence agencies have said - is that the Russian effort during the election kind of broadly speaking involved let's say three pots. Support Trump. Hurt Hillary Clinton, and divide America.

And some of the people that I've spoken with on the Hill have said that the social media aspect appears to largely kind of fall into pot three - so to divide America, push divisive topics. Now, that's not final. There's still a lot that investigators want to learn about Twitter and Facebook and how Russia used them. But that's info that they have to get from Twitter and Facebook.

CHANG: So have Facebook and Twitter responded?

LUCAS: They have, Ailsa. They both promised to cooperate with investigators, and it seems that both companies have determined that it's in their best interest to do so. Facebook has said, for example, that it will hand over 3,000 Russia-linked ads and outline nine steps that it's going to take to try to prevent the network from being used by Russia and other countries to meddle in future elections.

Now, Twitter put out a statement today after its meeting on the Hill, and they said that they are looking internally at how automated accounts, which are also known as bots, work on its platform. And what they're trying to do is limit the scope and abuse of those accounts.

CHANG: Yeah.

LUCAS: And Twitter said today and Facebook has said previously that on the question of advertising online, that they both support greater transparency.

CHANG: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks very much, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.