The US Senate Intelligence Committee has reportedly honed in on message board site Reddit as its next target in the relentless probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The investigators have already summoned Google, Facebook and Twitter over the matter.
Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – one of the bodies probing Russia’s alleged meddling in the US elections – is “interested” in the message board’s possible role as a tool used to spread “Russian influence” on social media and to disseminate fake news, an official from his office told The Hill.
The message board drew the attention of US lawmakers as many fake news stories were reportedly traced back to the platform, including the notorious ‘Pizzagate’ fiasco that alleged that Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair John Podesta were running a child sex ring using a Washington, DC pizzeria as a front.
Reddit has loose regulation rules and lenient terms of service, allowing people to create accounts without much verification. It also relies on volunteer moderators to monitor content posted on its communities.
The site is the fourth-most visited platform in the US, with over half a billion monthly visitors. Some US experts cited by The Hill alleged the message board provides a link between some fringe or extreme sites that publish news pieces of “dubious credibility” and more mainstream platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, becoming a useful tool to spread fake news.
However, the site did not report on any evidence that could indicate any specific activity to influence US public opinion via Reddit that could be directly traced back to Russia.
The congressional investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election has already dragged on for 10 months after the vote, but it’s still struggling to find any noteworthy evidence that could point to Moscow’s role in the alleged meddling into the US election.
Warner, who now reportedly considers investigating Reddit, has already spearheaded efforts to probe other internet platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, in relation to the alleged Russian interference.
In early September, Facebook joined the witch hunt for the Russian trail in the US elections as it suddenly discovered some 3,000 ads purchased between June 2015 and May 2017 and connected to 470 “inauthentic” accounts, trying its best to link the ‘find’ with Russia’s alleged interference.
Although Facebook also said that most ads did not promote any candidate or even did not include any specific reference to the US presidential campaign – it did not stop some US lawmakers, including Warner, to claim that it was part of Russia’s wide-reaching social media campaign aimed at the “suppression” of US voters.
Following Facebook’s statements concerning the Russia-linked ads, President Donald Trump once again criticized the US media over its continuing “Russia hoax,” adding that now the focus of attention has shifted towards social media ads.
Google has meanwhile said it found no evidence that could substantiate allegations that its advertising tools were used by Moscow to manipulate the US vote.
On Tuesday, Congressional leaders fired off letters to Facebook, Google and Twitter, demanding the companies provide “any and all” information on whether Russia purchased any “anti-fracking or anti-fossil fuel” advertisements from January 2010 to the present. The social media companies were also put on notice to testify at a public hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, on a yet to be determined date.
Russia has consistently denied any allegations that it interfered in the US election campaign, while at the same time anticipating that the anti-Russian hysteria will be amplified by Washington to intensify activities aimed at destabilizing Russia ahead of the 2018 presidential election.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said this week that his ministry foresees that “the attempts to influence the situation in our country, to undermine stability from the inside, will not wane, but rather get stronger.”
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of Russia’s Senate Committee for International Relations, has also warned that the US and its NATO allies are likely to make attempts to influence the outcome of the 2018 Russian presidential campaign.