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Sen. Wyden on social media’s ‘excruciatingly slow’ response to Russian interference

A Senate intelligence committee has released bipartisan reports exposing further efforts by Russia to influence American elections via social media. Judy Woodruff speaks with committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., about how sophisticated the Russian efforts are, what social media platforms are doing in response and the responsibility that falls to all Americans to scrutinize information.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are new details on the scope of Russia's efforts to divide Americans and sway voters to elect President Trump in 2016.

    A pair of bipartisan reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee were released today. The researchers outlined the strategy by the Russian government's propaganda wing, the Internet Research Agency.

    Tactics included specifically targeting African-Americans, using a wide variety of social media platforms to spread their messages, and working toward electing candidate Donald Trump.

    Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    I spoke to him just a short while ago about what stands out in these latest findings.

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    What is really new, Judy, is that the companies have been excruciatingly show to deal with this very serious problem.

    And let me give you an example. Well, after the 2016 elections, the Facebook general counsel, Colin Stretch, came to an open Intelligence Committee hearing, and I asked him about the Russians and their efforts to suppress the liberal vote.

    He claimed, well after the 2016 election, he didn't know anything about it. Then, about a year later, Sheryl Sandberg came. I asked her about another problem, and that was sites giving out false information about when the date of the election was.

    She said then that was a serious problem and, within a couple of weeks, it actually got corrected. So what is really new here is not only is this serious business, because it undermines our democracy, but the companies, sometimes, trying to get them to change has been like pulling teeth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the companies — you're saying it's on the companies. They should have known about this earlier.

    Are we also seeing here, though, a higher level of sophistication on the part of the Russians than we realized, in trying to divide Americans by race, by geography, by religion?

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    The Russians are clearly sophisticated.

    And, by the way, this wasn't their only strategy. There was WikiLeaks. There were the efforts with the NRA. There was hacking.

    But what I will tell you — and this is also outlined in coming out — in some instances, when you're talking about St. Petersburg being the address of the site, or you're talking about them paying in rubles, that ought to be a wakeup call to get these companies to move.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, paying in rubles seems like a dead giveaway.

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    You think?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Any — Senator, any new information here that points to coordination with the Trump campaign?

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    What is new here is the extent of the efforts.

    I think we all understand there are issues left to be resolved about collusion generally. When Donald Trump Jr. came, for example, to that big meeting, there is no question in my mind there was an intent to collude.

    When you look at all of these stories with respect to the possibility of a Trump Tower in Moscow, there are real questions with respect to collusion.

    What is new here is just how extensive the effort was by the Russians to use these social media platforms to consistently pound out a message. And you bet they were sophisticated. They would try, for example, to build up credibility on a particular site.

    For example, they might target African-Americans, and they would use something, the equivalent of blacks matter. They build up confidence among African-Americans, and then, at the last minute, they would say, Hillary Clinton couldn't care less about African-Americans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, we have now seen at least, by my count, a half-a-dozen reports on Russian interference. Is this the end of reports? And if so — or even if we're getting close to the end, what happens next?

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    What is essential next is for these companies to be much more vigilant and much more aggressive.

    I don't think they have taken this seriously in the past. For example, I think they have been much more interested in raking in profits than dealing with efforts by the Russians to stack an election for Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, for example, Facebook put out a statement today saying they have taken extensive efforts, steps to try to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again.

    They point to the fact that, in 2018, the interference wasn't as anywhere near as serious as it was in 2016. Are you saying you don't believe they're doing what they say they're doing?

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    My sense is that there has been some progress, but that's why I gave you the two examples, well after the election and then most recently with Sheryl Sandberg, when I pointed out that there were sites that were putting up fake dates about the election. She did move to change that quickly. She moved within a couple of weeks.

    They have moved to do more of what is called down-ranking, which is to make it harder to see a particular site. But I would tell you, as somebody who has really tried to specialize in these issues, I think they have got to be much more vigilant and much more aggressive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you're saying, Senator, this is all on these social media companies, that there's not a particular role here for the government or anything related?

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    I think there is a role for us as Americans here, Judy.

    For example, for all of us as Americans, as citizens, I think we have got to understand that it's important for us to be careful, when someone uses these dog whistles to undermine the beliefs and heritage that we all share as Americans. You bet. There's also some personal responsibility here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Ron Wyden on the Senate Intelligence Committee, thank you, Senator.

  • Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.:

    Thank you for having me.

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