Information Technology

This topic seems particularly timely.  For the past two years, it has been virtually impossible to go through a single day’s news cycle without a reference to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.  The report was finished on March 22.  The investigation had become somewhat politicized with respect to the questions of whether the President or his campaign, had any involvement.  While that aspect of the report still appears to be very polarizing, it is beyond the scope of this course.

That said, the evidence and Mueller’s report seem fairly clear with respect to the more basic question:  Did Russia use the internet in an attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election?  Regardless of your political views, there are two facts which appear to be widely accepted today: (1) Russia was likely behind the breach and subsequent leak of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and (2) Russia conducted an active propaganda campaign on social media during the 2016 campaign.  This is information warfare.

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To support these statements, I’ve tried to locate some sources that reflect a relatively neutral point of view including the indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice against the “Internet Research Agency” that organized Russian social media campaigns, a March 2018 Brookings Institute report on The Future of Political Warfare, the 2017 intelligence community report on Russian activities during the election, and various news articles.  I suggest conducting your own research, as needed, as well.

Generally, these sources indicate that Russia directly acted to illegally obtain emails which were subsequently leaked.  Additionally, Russia used “fake news” or propaganda, released through various channels, to spread disinformation during the 2016 election.  Russian organizations also staged political rallies both for and against Donald Trump.  It appears that the aim was to be disruptive to the U.S. political process, though it is not clear what, if any, impact these activities themselves may have had on the outcome of the election.

While this seems like a very serious foray into our American democracy, this is not entirely new in the intelligence community.  Since long before the rise of the Internet and social media, Russia, other nations, and even the U.S. have engaged in activities that are designed to influence elections.

In light of this and recent revelations about data breaches at Facebook, some have been advocating for regulation of social media.  This may address some issues, but it could also create barriers to entry for small companies.

In approximately 500 words, using your own research, share your opinions on these issues.  As an opinion assignment, your viewpoint has no bearing on your grade.  How concerned are you about foreign countries spreading false information on the internet during U.S. elections?  What about going to the next level and actively (and illegally) hacking to influence elections as was done with the emails?  Do you think that regulation is the solution?  If so, what regulations should be imposed?  If not, what should be done?

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