When he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, former FBI agent Clint Watts described how Russians used armies of Twitter bots to spread fake news using accounts that seem to be Midwestern swing-voter Republicans. “So that way whenever you’re trying to socially engineer them and convince them that the information is true, it’s much more simple because you see somebody and they look exactly like you, even down to the pictures,” Watts told the panel, which is investigating Russia’s role in interfering in the U.S. elections. In an interview Monday with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, says the Russian misinformation campaign didn’t stop with the election of President Trump.
“If you went online today, you could see these accounts — either bots or actual personas somewhere — that are trying to connect with the administration. They might broadcast stories and then follow up with another tweet that tries to gain the president’s attention, or they’ll try and answer the tweets that the president puts out,” Watts says.
Watts, a cybersecurity expert, says he’s been tracking this sort of activity by the Russians for more than three years. “It’s a circular system. Sometimes the propaganda outlets themselves will put out false or manipulated stories. Other times, the president will go with a conspiracy.”