Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Information Sharing

Preventing Election Interference: New Recommendations

Senate Intel Committee Calls for Congress, White House and Social Media Firms to Take Action
Preventing Election Interference: New Recommendations

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has released a second volume on the results of its investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential elections. Among its recommendations for preventing election meddling: new security measures for social media companies, new legislation and creating an interagency task force.

See Also: Safeguarding Election Integrity in the Digital Age

"This challenge requires an integrated approach that brings together the public and private sectors,” the report notes. “The federal government, civil society and the private sector, including social media and technology companies, each have an important role to play in deterring and defending against foreign influence operations that target the United States.”

Volume Two

The report, released Tuesday, focuses mostly on Russia’s efforts to manipulate social media and the spread of disinformation in the run-up to the vote. It’s the second volume based on the committee's two-year investigation into Russian interference in 2016 elections.

The first volume, released in July, found that Russia targeted election systems and infrastructure in all 50 states before the 2016 presidential election and that the federal government failed to fully warn local officials of the danger (see: Russia Targeted All 50 States During 2016 Election: Report).

The new report, which describes the role played by the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency, an alleged troll farm that helped spread false information in the run-up to the 2016 election, also reflects the concerns former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified about before Congress this summer (see: Mueller: Russian Interference 'Serious' Threat to Democracy).

The U.S. Treasury Department recently imposed new sanctions on Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian national who the U.S. alleges provided financing for the Internet Research Agency. Six other employees of the companies were also hit with sanctions for attempting to interfere with the 2018 elections (see: Russian Troll Farm Targeted With Fresh US Sanctions).

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the intelligence committee, noted that despite the investigations into Russian methods to manipulate voters, threat actors continue attempts to spread disinformation across social media platforms. In addition, other countries have started to adopt these techniques and tactics.

"By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans," Burr says. "While Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea and Iran, are following suit."

Social Media Recommendations

The report recommends that social media companies create a formalized mechanism for sharing information on malicious activity and platform vulnerabilities that are used by threat actors and nation-states to spread disinformation.

The report also says social media companies should provide greater transparency to users about activity occurring on their platforms, including the use of bots and other tools to spread information. These firms also should provide more context to their users about why they are viewing certain content, the origin of this content as well as providing complete and timely public information of malicious information operations, the report states.

Social media companies also need to proactively and conspicuously notify users when they have been exposed to disinformation or fake accounts, according to the report.

The report also recommends that social media companies create ways to facilitate third-party research that can help them defend against disinformation campaigns.

Legislative Recommendations

The report also makes several recommendations for Congressional action.

For example, the committee recommends that Congress approve legislation that would require social media platforms to disclose the sponsorship of a political advertisement - similar to rules that govern television, radio and satellite campaign ads.

"This will also help to ensure that the [Russian-backed] Internet Research Agency or any similarly situated actors cannot use paid advertisements for purposes of foreign interference," the report says.

The committee's vice chairman, Mark Warner, D-Va., says Americans deserve to know who is paying for political ads.

"We also need to give Americans more control over their data and how it’s used, and make sure that they know who's bankrolling the political ads coming across their screens,” Warner says. "We need to take measures to guarantee that companies are identifying inauthentic user accounts and pages and appropriately handling defamatory or synthetic content."

White House Action Recommended

The committee also made a series of recommendations directed at the executive branch. The White House, the report states, should "reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election."

The committee also recommends the creation of an interagency task force to monitor and assess other countries' use of social media platforms to interfere with voting and other aspects of the democratic process. This agency should produce reports for the Congress and the public, the report states.

"The task force should also develop a deterrence framework to inform U.S. government responses to foreign influence efforts using social media," the report recommends.

The report also recommends that the executive branch develop a methodology for notifying candidates, parties or others associated with elections when they have been the victim of another country’s use of social media platforms to interfere in an election.

About the Author

Apurva Venkat

Apurva Venkat

Special Correspondent

Venkat is special correspondent for Information Security Media Group's global news desk. She has previously worked at companies such as IDG and Business Standard where she reported on developments in technology, businesses, startups, fintech, e-commerce, cybersecurity, civic news and education.

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