Facebook and Twitter are becoming a 'red-hot' focus of Mueller's Russia investigation

Russia's use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to spread fake news and propaganda during the 2016 election has become a "red-hot" focus of FBI special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's election interference, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

The news comes one week after Facebook shut down roughly 470 "inauthentic" accounts and pages that "were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia." Facebook said in a statement that the accounts were connected to roughly $100,000 in ad purchases between June 2015 and May 2017.

Congressional investigators want to question Facebook and Twitter representatives, too, and the Senate Intelligence Committee is reportedly weighing whether to hold a public hearing focusing on how Russia used social media to "manipulate" voters.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday.

Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
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Putting the Trump-Russia timeline into perspective
June 7: The 2016 primary season essentially concludes, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominees
June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
June 9: Trump tweets about Clinton's missing 33,000 emails
July 18: Washington Post reports, on the first day of the GOP convention, that the Trump campaign changed the Republican platform to ensure that it didn't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces
July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination
July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee
July 25: Democratic convention begins
July 27: In final news conference of his 2016 campaign, Trump asks Russia: "If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing"
August 4: Obama CIA Director John Brennan confronts his Russian counterpart about Russia's interference. "[I] told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy," Brennan said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
October 4: WikiLeaks' Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign
October 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta's emails
October 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election
October 31: "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Trump says on the campaign trail
November 4: "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Trump says from Ohio.

Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters last week that the social media element of Russia's influence operation — which included the hacks on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta — "opens a whole new arena.”

Warner added that he thought the advertisements the Russians purchased were "just the tip of the iceberg." Facebook has since confirmed that Russia-linked groups went further than ad buys and memes, and tried to organize anti-immigrant, anti-Clinton rallies in Texas and Idaho.

Russian "bots" posing as Americans also inundated Twitter during the election, spreading anti-Clinton messages and material that had been hacked from the DNC and Podesta.

A New York Times analysis of the Russian social media fingerprints revealed that "hundreds or thousands" of fake accounts on both Facebook and Twitter contributed to the interference campaign.

Americans "ought to be able to know if there is foreign-sponsored [internet] content coming into their electoral process," Warner said last week. "That becomes a method of influence exponentially, I would argue, bigger than TV and radio."

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that he too was "keenly interested in Russia's use of social media platforms, both the use of bots and trolls to spread disinformation and propaganda, including through the use of paid online advertising."

Schiff told MSNBC last week that he also wanted to know how sophisticated the ads were — in terms of their content and targets — to determine whether they had any help from the Trump campaign.

Facebook said in its statement that about 25% of the ads purchased by Russians "were geographically targeted." Facebook representatives told lawmakers behind closed doors Wednesday that the ad sales had been traced back to a notorious Russian "troll farm," according to The Washington Post.

Warner said Thursday that while "we know about the hacking, as a former tech guy, what really concerns me is that there were upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of Russia taking over computers, making botnets, and generating news down to specific areas."

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