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Russian trolls risk exploiting close midterm races facing recall, warns Sen. Mark Warner

November 9, 2018

Russia could still meddle in the 2018 midterm races regardless of Election Day being over, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee warned in an interview aired Friday.

Narrowly fought races being contested in the wake of Tuesday’s midterms risk becoming fodder for Russian internet trolls, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia indicated during an interview with Hill.TV.

“One worry is with so many races that are so close still, could you have Russian or other intervention that starts questioning the results?” Mr. Warner said. “Remember, the Russians don’t have to necessarily change the results, they just have to try to, frankly, get Americans to trust our process less.

“So far, we have not seen that, but let’s keep our fingers crossed,” the senator added.

Russian internet trolls participated in an interference campaign against the 2016 U.S. elections by spreading disinformation, fake news and other politically charged material during the race on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, sowing discord and disrupting the campaign of former Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in tandem with multi-pronged, state-sponsored hacking operation, U.S. officials previously concluded.

Tuesday’s elections ended without U.S. officials witnessing any “successful cybersecurity-related compromises of election infrastructure,” a Department of Homeland Security official told reporters Wednesday.

Nonetheless, Mr. Warner suggested contested races pending potential recounts in Arizona, Florida and Georgia present an opportunity for foreign adversaries, Russian or otherwise, to potentially interfere in their outcomes by repeating past tactics.

In addition to using social media platforms to meddle in the 2016 race, subsequent researched has linked the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg “troll farm” tied to Russian intelligence, with operating troll accounts and bots, or automated accounts, responsible for sowing discord surrounding hot-button issues including police brutality and vaccinations, among others.

Special counsel Robert Mueller filed criminal charges in February against the Internet Research Agency and several affiliated individuals and entities as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 race, and last month federal prosecutors brought charges against Elena Khusyaynova, an accountant affiliated with the Russian troll farm, in connection with allegedly meddling in the 2018 midterms.

More recently, Facebook on Tuesday removed dozens of accounts from Instagram, the social network’s photo-sharing service, over apparent ties to the Internet Research Agency. A Russian website has since taken credit for operating those accounts and others “to discredit anti-Russian candidates and support politicians more useful for us than for you.”

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