The FBI spent election day 2016 on the lookout for actual cyber-threats, but CNN reports there were also agents assigned to monitor “fake news” on social media:
On this day, there was also a group of FBI cyber and counterintelligence analysts and investigators watching social media.
FBI analysts had identified social media user accounts behind stories, some based overseas, and the suspicion was that at least some were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, according to two sources familiar with the investigation…
The FBI would not comment for the story but one of CNN’s anonymous sources says, “We were right on the edge of Constitutional legality.” This source adds, “We were monitoring news.”
It’s not clear to me what the FBI was doing monitoring social media on election day. We’re not talking about threats against lawmakers, at least that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’re talking about bogus news stories. What was the FBI supposed to do if it found one? Would it put out a fact check? Ask Twitter or Facebook to shut down an account? All of that seems outside the FBI’s usual purview of investigating crime. CNN’s story doesn’t give us any sense of what the plan behind this monitoring was.
FBI agents did identify some “minor” issues in a couple states, though it’s not clear if those issues involved cyber attacks on election systems or fake news. Ultimately, CNN reports, the FBI agents “exchanged congratulations” on a successful election with no major problems. But an unnamed Obama White House official disagrees with that assessment, telling CNN, “What they did worked!” The “they” in this case is presumably the Russians.
It is taken as a given by many on the left, including Hillary Clinton that the Russian fake news effort had a significant impact on the election. It doesn’t sound, from this story, as if the FBI believes that was the case. But, either way, it would be helpful to know what the FBI actually found in its day of monitoring social media. Given how significant many have been claiming this activity was, shouldn’t the American people know how officials monitoring the situation in real time felt about it?