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Russia Used All Major Social Media Platforms To Help Elect Trump, 'Post' Reports


"Russia Used Every Major Social Media Platform To Help Elect Donald Trump" - that is the headline today in The Washington Post. And according to the paper, that is the conclusion of a report prepared for the Senate about Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election. Joining us now is one of the reporters on that story, Craig Timberg. Craig, good morning.

CRAIG TIMBERG: Good morning.

GREENE: So start with what the impetus for this report was. If you can remind us, who asked for it?

TIMBERG: The Senate Intelligence Committee has been very active in probing this issue for a good while now. They've really pushed the companies to produce more data and more revelations. And this is the report that gives us sort of the culminating answer of what they've found. They've hired some of the best researchers in the world, from what I can tell, and they've really got some very strong conclusions.

GREENE: So it's not news obviously that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election. I mean, we've been reporting on that for a long time, the fact that they used Facebook, Twitter. So what are we learning here? This seems to cover a much wider scope than we've really gotten before.

TIMBERG: We've got more detail than we've ever had before on how Instagram, for example, was used, on how YouTube was used. And there's also a kind of air of conclusiveness about this report. I've been writing about this for more than two years, but this is - feels stronger, more sweeping, more solid in really everything it says than any report I've seen before on the subject.

GREENE: I was just reading some of your story, and I was sort of struck not just that some of the messaging that Russians were doing were trying to benefit the Republican Party but that they were actually trying to suppress turnout among Democratic voters. How exactly does it seem like that might have been happening?

TIMBERG: Right. These social media platforms allow you to target people in very specific ways. So I can go after African-Americans in Baltimore, or I can go after Latinos in Texas or conservatives in South Carolina. So one of the groups that the Russians targeted were African-Americans both across the country and in specific areas. And they would send messages like, man, this system is really broken; we shouldn't even bother to vote; that's the best thing we should do - we can do or Hillary Clinton isn't really with us; she's just as bad as Donald Trump; don't bother to vote. And sometimes they would send out messages just to confuse people, like, you can vote on Thursday evening using a text message. And so that kind of suppression messaging which we've seen in other campaigns obviously as well was particularly strong in the Russian effort. And it is frankly very disturbing.

GREENE: Does it say anything conclusive about whether it was effective, like, whether the Russians actually made a difference, or is it just conclusive in what their intentions were?

TIMBERG: This report stops at the same line all of this work does and actually the U.S. intelligence committee does well, which is to say, you know, we don't know, right? I mean, there's no way to run a new election and take this out of it and see what happens. That's what it would take from a scientific basis to say exactly what had happened. So we are all left in a way to try to think about, OK, in an incredibly close election that was separated by a few thousand votes in a few states, could this have mattered? I can't answer that for you. The researchers obviously can't answer that for you. Even the U.S. intelligence committee can't answer this for you. But it certainly looked like the Russians were trying.

GREENE: Craig Timberg is a reporter for The Washington Post. Craig, thanks as always.

TIMBERG: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.