US Senate reports find social media is a threat to democracy


A December 2018 report prepared by the Oxford Internet Institute's Computational propaganda Research Project and the network analysis firm Graphika for the US Senate Intelligence Committee found that the campaign conducted by Russia's Internet Research Agency during the 2016 US presidential election used every major social media platform to deliver messages in words, images, and videos to help elect Donald Trump - and stepped up efforts to support him once he assumed office. The report relied on data sets provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google that covered the several years leading up to mid-2017, when the companies cracked down on known Russian accounts, as well as other data separately provided to the House Intelligence Committee. A second report provided for the Committee by researchers at New Knowledge, Columbia University, and Canfield Research, found that the Russians also worked to undermine the faith in elections of left-leaning African-American voters and limit their access by spreading misinformation about how to vote. The reports offered new insight into the IRA's use of YouTube and Instagram, as well as Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Both reports concluded that social media - once seen as tools for liberation in the Arab world - are threats to democracy, and urged social media companies to make data available in more readily usable formats. Partly, in response, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called for a one-day boycott of Facebook and Instagram to protest the use of Facebook for propaganda. The operations played both sides, publishing explicitly racist posts targeted at right-learning voters, and calling for equality and freedom for black people in posts targeted at black Americans. In both cases, the posts were aimed at increasing divisions and heightening tensions.

Writer: Craig Timberg and Tony Romm; Alexis C. Madrigal
Publication: Washington Post; Atlantic


Learn more
Related learning resources