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Republicans are focused on the scale and skill of Russian hacking
The three witnesses before the committee stressed the highly coordinated and long-planned manipulation of news, social media and online information distribution by the Russians. Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, told senators Russians have possessed the ability to hack servers and manipulate online news since 2014.
“The Russians could not do [interfere in the American election] if they started in 2016,” Watts said of Russian meddling in the election.
The witnesses detailed exactly how the Russian government and its associates influenced the election. First, Russian-backed news outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik would publish a false story. Then, social media accounts — some automated — would share the story thousands of times within hours of its publication, launching the false narrative into the top trending news on platforms such as Twitter. That elevation would prompt attention from the mainstream media, further elevating the fake story.
False stories were often shared by accounts that would feel familiar to the people most likely to follow that account. A Twitter user in Wisconsin, for example, would be targeted by a different automated Russian social media account than a Twitter user in Florida might. “You see somebody and they look exactly like you, even down to the pictures,” Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was one of the presidential candidates hurt by the Russian misinformation efforts, Watts said. Rubio said the U.S. was the victim of “a highly coordinated misinformation campaign involving dozens of fake accounts that posted fake stories for hours.” The goal was simple: “To pit Americans against one another,” the senator said. “Aren’t we in the midst of a blitzkrieg of misinformation … to sow discord amongst Americans?”