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Republican-led Senate report shows how Russian trolls attacked 2016 election

"We made America great," one Russian operative joked as Trump's victory became clear.

The Washington Post via Getty
  • A long-awaited bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report shows how Kremlin-directed operatives at the Internet Research Agency used disinformation to influence the 2016 presidential elections.
  • The report was published by a Republican-led Senate committee.
  • The committee issued several recommendations for how to protect against future disinformation campaigns, which are ongoing, the report states.


Shortly after it became clear in 2016 that Donald Trump was to become the next president of the United States, Russian disinformation operatives began celebrating.

"On November 9, 2016, a sleepless night was ahead of us," said one operative at the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report. "And when around 8 a.m. the most important result of our work arrived, we uncorked a tiny bottle of champagne. . . took one gulp each and looked into each other's eyes. . . We uttered almost in unison: 'We made America great.'"

The long-awaited report — published Tuesday by a Republican-led Senate committee — reaffirms that Russian trolls engaged in a far-reaching social media disinformation campaign designed to sow discord in the American discourse and help Trump get elected. These efforts, the committee found, were "tasked and supported by" the Russian government.

"The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton's chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin," the report states.

Russian trolls used several broad tactics to sway voters to the right.

They sought to suppress left-leaning votes by pushing three types of posts on social media: turnout suppression and election boycott; third-candidate promotion; and "candidate attack, all targeting nonwhites or likely Clinton voters."

Researchers didn't find similar attempts to suppress right-leaning votes.

Russian trolls responded to real-time political events in the U.S., such as when Clinton appeared to faint near a car after a 9/11 memorial service, with IRA operatives pushing hashtags like #HillarySickAtGroundZero, #ClintonCollapse, #ZombieHillary and #SickHillary.

Russian trolls also targeted African-Americans more than any other group, and the report found that 66 percent of the agency's Facebook advertisement content contained a race-related term, while 96 percent of its YouTube content was related to race and police brutality.

"By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016," the report states.

​How can the U.S. better protect itself going forward?

The committee recommended that Congress take a closer look at Silicon Valley's role in facilitating the ability of foreign actors to influence American discourse online.

"Issues such as privacy rules, identity validation, transparency in how data is collected and used, and monitoring for inauthentic or malign content, among others, deserve continued examination," the report states, adding that Americans should be able to know the sources of online political advertisements.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said:

"We're working closely with governments, outside experts and other companies to identify threats and share information. We have also invested in technology and people to block and remove fake accounts; find and remove coordinated manipulation campaigns; and bring unprecedented transparency to political advertising."

On the executive side, the committee recommended that the president make clear the threats that foreign trolls pose in future elections.

"The committee recommends that the executive branch should, in the run-up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election."

The committee concluded the report by recommending a public service announcement campaign, run by social media companies or government actors, "that promotes informed social media behavior and raises awareness about various types of foreign influence and interference activity that is targeting American citizens, businesses, and institutions."

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain

How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?

We can promote the development of new neurons well into adulthood - and here's why we should.

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Mind & Brain
  • Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
  • After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
  • Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
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Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

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Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

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