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Russian Interferences in U.S. elections: What We’ve Learned (And What We Haven’t)

By: Isabella Gattuso

Following investigations into Russian interference of the 2016 election, the U.S. government and various social media sites have taken steps to minimize the vulnerabilities in the electoral system. An investigation led by Robert Mueller and a report to the Senate both highlight the weaknesses and how the Russians were able to break into election mechanisms. With the election rapidly approaching, it begs the question: how have we changed to protect ourselves in 2020?

Election infrastructure

In a Senate report released regarding Russian involvement in the 2016 election, intelligence reported that Russia probed into election infrastructure. One insider testimony was shocked to find the lax security around such machinery as allegedly the passwords to the election machines’ supervisor mode was nothing more than “ABC123” and machines had easily accessible USB ports in the side to plug in any necessary software.

Although the reason for the probe was unclear, the report speculated it was to find vulnerabilities in the election process or to simply create chaos to undermine the confidence in the electoral system. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released suggestions on how to improve the security of such infrastructure.

Despite having initial pushback from the states for federal intervention, the opening of communication between the state and federal governments has allowed both governments to improve their training and cybersecurity programs and have allowed states to receive equipment and security clearances necessary to detect threats. 

Russian Contacts with the Trump campaign

Although it was rumored that Trump colluded with Russia to win the election, ultimately the rumor was put to rest once the Mueller Report found there was not enough evidence to support any interaction between the two. While there has been no damning evidence so far to support the possibility that Trump will conspire with Russia in 2020, his actions seem to imply he has nothing against foreign interference in U.S. affairs. Russia faced little-to-no consequences when there was a bounty on American soldiers and was impeached for abusing power against Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. 

Information warfare

In both the Senate report and the Mueller Report, investigators found that although Russia did not directly tamper with election results, one of the earliest involvement of the election was through what was dubbed “information warfare” in order to “sow discord” in the United States. Instead of manually changing votes, the operation would post political advertisements on all forms of social media in favor of Donald Trump and discredit opponent Hillary Clinton (a common occurrence in the interferences).

They would also pose as people or groups to form rallies on the behalf of Donald Trump. Since then, social media sites have stepped up to eliminate politicalized ads on their sites. Twitter completely prohibited political ads earlier this year, and Facebook is scheduled to follow a week before the election. Both social media platforms have also banned accounts and websites associated with Russian hacking. However, these actions have come under attack by several news sites, claiming that banning ads will have no effect unless there is a political action trying to minimize the possibility of information warfare happening again. 

Dissemination of leaked material

It was also confirmed that the Russian operation was ordered to hack into Hillary Clinton’s and other Democratic Party accounts with the intention of leaking information in order to harm the Clinton campaign. The effort was aided by the cooperation of WikiLeaks, who knowingly released confidential documents with two fake entities created by a Russian military intelligence agency (GRU).

A bill was introduced into Congress to combat the effects of propaganda and another called for a confrontation with Russia about their attempts of influence. 12 Russian officers were also charged for hacking into the accounts. 

The response to Russia’s interference is a noble effort, but we are yet to see if the solutions are enough. There’s still a long way to go until the defects of the voting system are minimized, but until then we should take more steps to get there one day. We’ve seen federal action (with the state governments) is effective.

Now, in light of the 2020 election, it’s more necessary than ever to have a leader who rejects foreign investigation, a government that puts more regulation into place to audit and protect votes, and social media that is actively protecting users from targeted advertisements and accounts.



















*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the the organization as a whole.


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