Senate report calls for measures to prevent Russian interference in 2020 election

The bipartisan report caps a two-year investigation into meddling in the last presidential campaign.

Andrew Morse Former executive editor
Andrew Morse is a veteran reporter and editor. Before joining CNET, he worked at The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg, among other publications.
Andrew Morse
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A Senate committee offered recommendations to prevent interference in the 2020 election.

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A bipartisan Senate committee on Tuesday called for new procedures to protect the US from foreign disinformation efforts, recommendations that come as the country readies for the 2020 presidential campaign. In an 85-page report, the Senate Intelligence Committee pushed for new legislation to ensure transparency in political advertising on social media networks, and it urged increased coordination and information sharing between social media companies and the government.

The panel also called on the administration of President Donald Trump to establish a task force to monitor the use of social media by foreign countries that seek to interfere in US democracy and to develop measures to deter such interference. And the committee pushed for a campaign to raise public awareness of the issues.

The recommendations cap a two-year investigation into interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, which found that Russian operatives exploited social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to influence Americans. The committee determined that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, had meddled in the campaign, seeking to improve Trump's chances and harm Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's prospects. The Internet Research Agency also exploited the election to sow broader discord in American society by leaning into divisive issues, such as race, immigration and gun rights. The committee found that African Americans were targeted more than any other group.

Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, said the Russian efforts are continuing and could embolden other countries to meddle in US domestic affairs.

"Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the US that didn't start and didn't end with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government," Burr wrote in a statement accompanying the report. "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."

The report and its recommendations underscore the difficulties lawmakers face as they try to address vulnerabilities in election security. The House of Representatives passed a bill to secure election integrity, but Senate legislation called the Honest Ads Act has stalled.

The committee urged Congress to take up new legislation, saying that transparency in social media advertising should be at levels required for other media. "The committee ... recommends Congress consider legislation to ensure Americans know the source behind online political advertisements, similar to existing requirements for television, radio and satellite ads."

The committee also called for more cooperation between social media companies and the government, including reviews of existing laws and consideration of formal information-sharing relationships. Social media companies were called on to provide more information to users on accounts that might be promoting fake news, and to work with the government and law enforcement.

Watch this: Go inside Facebook's election war room