Russia may target the media in countries like India and Brazil to interfere in their elections, an Oxford University social media expert has alleged before US lawmakers.
The remarks by Philip N Howard, a statutory Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute and Balliol College at the University of Oxford came during a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Foreign Influence on Social Media platforms. Howard, however, did not elaborate further about his allegations.
The situation could be more dangerous in those countries where the media is not as professional as that of the US, he said. Howard’s mention of likely Russian interference in the Indian and Brazilian elections through their media, without any further explanation, came in response to a question from Senator Susan Collins after he gave some examples of such interference in the Hungarian media.
“The United States actually has the most professionalised media in the world. It’s learned certainly to evaluate their sources and no longer report tweets as is given,” Howard said.
“I would say that the greater concern would be amongst the media institutions in our democratic allies. I believe that the Russians have moved from targeting us, in particular, to Brazil and India; other enormous democracies that will be running elections in the next few years,” Howard said.
“While we still see significant Russian activity, those countries have the media institutions that need learn, need to develop,” Howard said. There were no follow up questions from lawmakers on these countries.
The powerful Senate committee held the hearing on the foreign influence on social media platforms with the focus on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
In a January 2017 assessment, top US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
During the hearing, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Vice Chairman Senator Mark Warner alleged that Russia’s active measures have revealed a dark underbelly of the social media ecosystem. “These same tools that spread misinformation can negatively affect other aspects of our lives,” Warner said.
Warner, who is also co-chair of the Senate India Caucus said that the United States government is not well-positioned to detect, track or counter these types of influence operations on social media.