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Russia trying to help Bernie Sanders campaign, says Washington Post intelligence source

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking at a town meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
February 21, 2020

Bernie Sanders was briefed by U.S. intelligence officials who said that Russia is trying to help his campaign, according to a new report.

An intelligence official anonymously told Washington Post that Sanders received the briefing, though it was unclear what form of influence Russia was attempting to have. The 2016 election saw a lot of targeted social media use to influence voters.

The development comes amid a previous report that Russia is also attempting to help President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

“Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia,” Sanders said, according to The Hill. “Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election.”

“I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement to The Washington Post. “My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do. In 2016, Russia used internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”

“All of us remember 2016, and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our elections and divide us up,” Sanders said. “I’m not saying that’s happening, but it would not shock me.”

President Trump and members of Congress have also been briefed on the situation.

The same claims from 2016 have shown that the Russian social media campaign intended to sow discord and divide Americans by stoking up anti-Trump rhetoric as well as racial divides across the United States.

According to new research from Duke University released on Dec. 2, that effort may have been ineffective, as it targeted already highly polarized individuals.

The conclusion suggests that “Russian trolls might have failed to sow discord because they mostly interacted with those who were already highly polarized.”

Although the interference from Russia included disinformation campaigns across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as attempts to hack into state election systems, there is no evidence that any votes were changed.

Graham Brookie, director of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, which tracks disinformation on social media sites, is skeptical that Russians are using social media to help Sanders’ campaign, saying there is “no evidence in open sources during this election cycle that an online community of Sanders supporters, known as Bernie bros, were catalyzed by what Sanders suggested could be ‘Russian interference.'”

He added: “Any candidate or public official casually introducing the possibility of Russian influence without providing any evidence or context creates a specter of interference that makes responding to real interference harder.”