FBI’s Comey explains dynamics of latest existential threat to American democracy

Speaking at a Newseum forum in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey warned about the enormity of foreign disinformation campaigns on social media sites which are attempting to disrupt America’s electoral process.

Director Comey referenced Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as a prime example of the challenge both American voters and U.S. intelligence agencies face going forward in an interconnected world where sources of information are not always clear.

Specifically, Comey said Russia has “used all kinds of vectors to try and influence and undermine our own faith in our democratic processes.”

“It’s something we take extraordinarily seriously,” he continued. “But at the center of our efforts is figuring out what’s going on and sharing that to inoculate the American people before an election.”

“The most important thing to be done is people need to be aware of the possibility that what they’re reading has been shaped by troll farms looking to push a message on Twitter to undermine our confidence,” Comey stated.

According to a January U.S. intelligence report, Kremlin interference in the 2016 election included a social media campaign in which users were paid to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton’s candidacy by sharing stories which portrayed the Democratic nominee in a negative light.

The use of “social” bots has generally been a problem, particularly for Twitter, in recent years.

A collaborative study by the University of Southern California and Indiana University published in March found that 15 percent, or 48 million, of 319 million active Twitter accounts are operated by computer programs.

“Many social bots perform useful functions, such as dissemination of news and publications and coordination of volunteer activities,” the research paper read. “However, there is a growing record of malicious applications of social bots.”

The study’s authors went on to warn some Twitter bots “emulate human behavior to manufacture fake grass roots political support, promote terrorist propaganda and recruitment, manipulate the stock market and disseminate rumors and conspiracy theories.”

Watch a highlight video of Director Comey’s comments on foreign interference in U.S. elections below.


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