Maine Gov. Paul LePage and other state political figures have been targets of Russian-backed disinformation campaigns. That’s according to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who revealed the findings at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington.
Collins says Russian Facebook pages were used in an effort to spread discord during the 2016 elections, and continues today. She quoted from posts on a known Russian Facebook page that was critical of LePage.
“LePage called up white people to kill blacks. After this statement, we can clearly see what kind of people serve in American government,” she read.
But Collins says the messaging found on Russian social media sites isn’t necessarily consistent.
“In August of 2017, Maine’s governor was the subject of a positive post on a different Russian backed Facebook page called Being Patriotic,” she says.
These are examples, Collins says, of how the Russians are involved in a substantive effort to influence political discourse in the United States. And she says its not being done in the form of paid ads alone.
“Unpaid content posted by the Russians that is clearly designed to specifically polarize and anger the American people,” she says.
U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine, who also serves on the Intelligence Committee, says political figures in other countries have been the subject of both paid and unpaid social media disinformation campaigns for years. In fact, King says those efforts are continuing to this day, as evidenced by Russian messaging around this year’s controversy in the NFL.
“I pointed out that that they were in the middle of the NFL, take a knee, stand up for the anthem kind of thing,” he says.
King says Congress faces a tough task in finding ways to combat these disinformation efforts, and that it will require the assistance of U.S.-based social media companies to curb the influence of these campaigns in future.
“They will be a part of our election in ‘18 and then ‘20. That is one of our big jobs,” he says, “is to figure out how do we prevent and defend ourselves against this, because we know they will be back.”
The committee brought in representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google for the hearing, and panel members pushed them to pledge additional efforts to block fake sites and identify the origins of these posts.
Collins says these U.S.-based companies have a special responsibility to help protect against outside meddling in the nation’s politics. And King says Congress can do a better job of deterring such activity, by spelling out the consequences and following through on them.
This story was originally published Nov. 1, 2017 at 5:17 p.m. ET.