Robert Mueller's Russia probe has a 'red-hot' focus on Facebook and other social media

Mr Mueller has reportedly asked for evidence from Facebook and Twitter: Reuters
Mr Mueller has reportedly asked for evidence from Facebook and Twitter: Reuters

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller reportedly has a “red-hot” focus on the way Russia sought to influence the 2016 US election by the anonymous spreading of propaganda - much of which was in support of Donald Trump - via social media.

As Mr Mueller’s team continues to probe possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow’s alleged attempt to interfere in the election, he is said to be focussing on how Russia was able to influence voters thought Facebook and other social media platforms.

Bloomberg News said the special prosecutor, appointed after Mr Trump fired James Comey in May, is seeking information from companies such as Facebook and Twitter. Last week, Facebook revealed it had sold $100,000 of adverts to fake Russian Facebook accounts, bought by a mysterious company linked to the Kremlin, which posted divisive advertisements about race, gay rights and gun control.

Mr Trump has always been loathe to admit that Russia may have influenced the election, in which he lost the popular vote. Yet Hillary Clinton, the woman he beat by means of the Electoral College despite her amassing three million more votes than him, has seized on the issue.

“The latest disclosure by Facebook about the targeting of attack ads, negative stories, dovetails with my concern that there had to be some information provided to the Russians by someone as to how best to weaponise the information that they stole, first from the Democratic Committee, then from John Podesta,” Ms Clinton told the New Yorker.

"[This tactics were] right out of the playbook of Putin and one of the generals whom he listens to, who talked about the kind of war planning and preparation that Russia needed to be engaged in."

She added: “It was no longer just large, conventional forces and nuclear warheads - it was also cyberwar, covert and semi-covert, even overt, as we saw in Ukraine.

“This attack on our electoral system was at least publicly encouraged by Trump and his campaign. I hope the investigation in the Congress and by [Robert] Mueller, as well, will give us more information and understanding of what else they really did to us. It’s not going away.”

Both Mr Trump and Vladimir Putin have denied colluding over the 2016 US presidential election.

Ms Clinton, who is currently promoting a new book, What Happened, that details her defeat to the reality television star and analyses some of the reasons for it, is relentless in her criticism of Mr Comey, who ten days before election day said the FBI has reopened its investigation into her use of a private email server.

It quickly transpired that the new probe was not related to her emails, but to those of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman and estranged husband of her top aide.

She also claims the ongoing threat from Russia is huge and that the Trump administration is failing to address it.

“Putin wants to undermine democracy, to undermine the Atlantic alliance, to undermine the EU, to undermine Nato, and to resurrect Russian influence as much as possible beyond the borders,” she said. “So the stakes are huge here.”

Bloomberg said several US intelligence agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI, were now working to determine what could be done to prevent a repeat of Russia’s alleged meddling.

Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have said social-media companies must be more forthcoming about what they saw happening on their platforms last year.

Mark Warner, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he believed last week’s admissions from Facebook appeared to be the tip of the iceberg.

“I think there’s going to be much more,” he said. “This is the Wild, Wild West.”