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Richard Burr says media botched Russian-social media story

November 1, 2017 GMT

The Russian operatives who ran Facebook ads surrounding last year’s election ran four times as many ads in Maryland a deep-blue state than they did on the critical swing state of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said Wednesday.

Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, also said of the 55 ads run in Wisconsin costing less than $2,000 total almost all were run even before the primary, and none mentioned then-candidate Donald Trump by name, suggesting they were less about attacking the president and more about sowing chaos.

Kicking off a hearing with executives from Silicon Valley’s leading social media and tech companies Facebook, Google and Twitter Mr. Burr said the narrative that Russian-backer operatives worked to boost Mr. Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in last year’s election was false.

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“I understand the urge to make this story simple,” said Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the committee. “But that’s biased.”

Later in the day, the firms will face questions from the House Intelligence committee’s Russian election meddling probe.

On Tuesday, executives from the firms took a grilling from a Senate judiciary subcommittee over Russian election interference. They were seen to fail to convince lawmakers that a similar propaganda push by the Kremlin could be stopped before America’s next election.

On Wednesday, Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s lead Democrat, aimed his opening statement directly at the Kremlin.

“Russian operatives are attempting to infiltrate and manipulate American social media to hijack the national conversation and to make Americans angry, to set us against ourselves and to undermine our democracy,” the Virginia Democrat said. “They are still doing it now, and not one of us is doing enough to stop it.

Mr. Warner said the “advent of social media tools” allowed Russia “the power to magnify propaganda and fake news on a scale that was unimaginable back in the days of the Berlin Wall.” He added that such misinformation was spread “with just a small amount of money” to “wreak havoc on our online discourse.”

Mr. Warner also lashed out at Facebook.

“For Facebook, much of the attention has been focused on the paid ads Russian trolls targeted to Americans,” he said. “However, these ads are just the tip of a very large iceberg. The real story is the amount of misinformation and divisive content that was pushed for free on Russian-backed pages, which then spread widely on the news feeds of tens of millions of Americans.”

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