Online platforms need to be more transparent with government to help fight increasingly sophisticated online misinformation campaigns led by Russia and other adversaries, social media experts and internet analysts told lawmakers on Wednesday. Government leaders must also make it clear to adversaries there will be consequences if they attempt to disrupt elections, they said. Nearly two years after officials first uncovered Russia’s attempts to meddle in the U.S. election, the conversation on Capitol Hill is shifting away from what happened in 2016 to how to stop similar campaigns in the years ahead. In their testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, witnesses said Russian attempts to influence American politics continue even today and the government has a responsibility to lessen the impact of information warfare on society. They said that role could include alerting the public when influence attempts are uncovered, deterring foreign leaders from engaging in such campaigns and identifying potential threats in new technologies like artificial intelligence before bad actors can exploit them.
“Civil society, our media institutions and the technology sector can only do so much,” said John Kelly, CEO of the analytics firm Graphika. “The responsibility also lies with government to ensure any state actor eager to manipulate and harass faces consequences for their actions. It’s not just bots that are attacking us, and it’s not just algorithms that must protect us.”
The discussion about Russia’s online interference efforts has focused mostly on the 2016 presidential race, but witnesses repeatedly underscored the fact that those attempts didn’t stop after election day—if anything, aggressors have “stepped on the gas,” Kelly said.
Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., both revealed their offices were targeted by hackers during the last year, and Facebook on Tuesday removed 32 pages and accounts that were engaged in suspicious activity. Though the company didn’t directly point their finger at Russia, it noted the accounts employed many of the same strategies used by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency to interfere in 2016.