Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role in a Russian cyber operation that widened the reach of news stories — some fake — favorable to Donald Trump’s campaign, McClatchy News reported.
Two unnamed sources told McClatchy that Russian operatives appear to have strategically timed computer commands known as "bots" to blitz social media with links to pro-Trump stories during the contentious race.
The result was millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on Breitbart News and InfoWars as well as other conservative sites – and on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, McClatchy reported.
The attacks are part of an FBI-led investigation into Russia's influence in the 2016 election, McClatchy reported.
The news outlet said the participation of the news sites was not necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.
InfoWars' Alex Jones denied any contact with Kremlin operatives about bots, McClatchy reported.
The probe of bot-engineered traffic is being driven by the FBI's Counterintelligence Division; McClatchy reported the division's inquiries rarely result in criminal charges.
But one unnamed former intelligence official told McClatchy the Russian cyber operation "may be one of the most highly impactful information operations in the history of intelligence."
The bots carried links not only to news stories but also to hacked Democratic emails posted on WikiLeaks, especially those from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta, Philip Howard, a professor at the Oxford University Internet Institute who has researched the attacks, told McClatchy.
"The full impact of the bots was subterranean and corrosive," Podesta told McClatchy. "The distribution channels were being flooded with this information. . . . We perhaps underestimated the strategy of pushing fake news out through social media and how it impacted the race."
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