The Register has a rather good report of the two investigations carried out for the Senate Intelligence Committee — and it highlights something that other reports seem to have missed — how the social media giants did their best to be, er, unhelpful.
The second Senate-commissioned report, written by Oxford University’s Internet Institute, reached the same conclusion: that the Russian campaign was large, sophisticated, and focused on Donald Trump’s election as president.
Thanks, no thanks
In this report, however, researchers also take time to criticize the response of the social networking giants to their efforts to understand what had happened: the internet titans were extremely unhelpful, even after being publicly chastised in the press and in Congress.
The worst offender may have been Google, which supplied very little information and when it did, supplied in it hard-to-search PDFs, making it difficult and time-consuming to analyze. Facebook was no better: simply refusing to hand over information and limiting what it did send to English-language pages. Even the most responsive company – Twitter – only sent the researchers shortlinks, as opposed to full URLs, making it harder to use other tools to track their impact and links across the internet.
The New Knowledge report says the same, noting that the companies also appear to have stripped meta data from the information they sent i.e. they actively tried to disrupt efforts to understand the reach and impact of Russian propaganda efforts.
In short, the two reports tell us what we already knew: that there was a large, organized Russian campaign in favor of Donald Trump; that the campaign used divisive social issues to attract people’s attention and push its messages; and the tech companies were caught completely unawares and then responded incredibly defensively when the size and scope of the propaganda campaign was revealed.
The difference from previous dossiers is that these reports are comprehensive and detailed. And they clearly identify the strategies and targets where previously much of the detail was anecdotal or intelligent conjecture. And, of course, we learned that Instagram punches above its weight, and the Russian campaign was so well resourced that it even bothered to post on Google+.