Black Lives Matter activists march in front of Trump Tower on January 14, 2017, in New York City.
Kevin Hagen/Getty Images
Last week in the Russia investigations: Reports are growing about Russian-linked interference beyond the Web and in real life, three senators pitch a bill to tackle digital active measures and Big Tech says it’ll play ball in Capitol Hill’s big show on Nov. 1.
Influence-mongering in real life
Accounts are piling up in which Russian influence-mongers evidently did more than interfere with Americans online last year — they also did so in person.
In New York and elsewhere, agents paid personal trainers to lead self-defense classesaimed at black activists with the message that they might need to “protect your rights,” as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Florida, they used Facebook and fraudulent websites to organize black rights protest rallies.
Each passing week brings more such accounts as members of Congress, Justice Department investigators and tech companies look back at things they didn’t know to view as suspicious at the time. And each new story only adds to the frustration of Americans learning they were deceived.
“For any group to collude to take advantage of the pain and anguish that African Americans — or any group — are experiencing in this country in order to sow further discord is disappointing and revolting,” activist Raven Solomon told BuzzFeed.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are frustrated too.
What can be done?
Three senators are sticking their toe in the water: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia have offered a bill. It would mandate that big social networks disclose the national origins of the buyers of political ads, and make their contents available to view at any time.
“First and foremost this is an issue of national security — Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads,” as Klobuchar said on Thursday.
Big Tech isn’t crazy about these potential regulations, however, and is expected to fight them inside Washington, D.C. Plus, the sponsors of the legislation concede on their own that the bill — even if it passed and was signed by President Trump — would only use a “light touch” with the big tech companies, and wouldn’t do anything on its own to stop Russia’s ongoing campaign of active measures.
Even so, Warner, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NPR‘s Mary Louise Kelly that the least Congress could do is close the gap in requirements for foreign spending on old-style political ads and digital ones.