The FBI's investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign will include looking at far-right and alt-right news sites, McClatchy reports.
Sources familiar with the investigation said Russian operatives appeared to have deployed "bots," or automated computer scripts and social media accounts, to flood social media with links to pro-Trump stories at times when Trump's campaign was struggling. Those links pointed to Breitbart and InfoWars as well as Russia-backed RT and Sputnik News.
This may be one of the most highly impactful information operations in the history of intelligence.
Sources told McClatchy some of the stories were false or only partially true. Other stories linked directly to Democratic National Committee emails posted on WikiLeaks. The investigation is still in its early stages, and an FBI spokesman declined to comment on the issue. The Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation also reportedly includes a look at bots.
In November, the Oxford University Project on Computational Propaganda found that pro-Trump bots on Twitter outnumbered pro-Hillary Clinton bots seven to one. The project found more than a third of pro-Trump tweets between the first two presidential debates were bot-generated, while one-fifth of pro-Clinton tweets were from bots during the same time period.
The bots were defined as accounts that tweeted at least 50 times a day about the same topic.
"Russian bots and internet trolls sought to propagate stories underground," Mike Carpenter, an Obama-era senior Pentagon official whose job focused on Russia, told McClatchy. He added that the stories were "very carefully timed" to deflect news coverage away from Trump's scandals.
For instance, after the leaked tape of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women was released, pro-Trump bot traffic spiked.
We perhaps underestimated the strategy of pushing fake news out through social media and how it impacted the race.
Those bots boosted traffic for InfoWars, widely criticized for promoting conspiracy theories, including the narrative that Clinton was seriously ill.
Donna Brazile, former interim DNC director, said Democrats did not use bots to spread their campaign message.