SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The San Francisco Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced Thursday it’s providing additional information to combat foreign interference in the 2020 election.

The FBI said it is working with other federal agencies, election officials and social media companies to ensure the public is informed of threats and malignant foreign influence.

“We all have a role to play to protect the sanctity of our elections,” said Deputy Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair. “We are providing information and guidance to the public so everyone can make their own informed decisions about what they view, read, and share on social media. We all have a shared mission to protect the American democratic system from foreign adversaries.”

Leading the defense of the election is the Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), which FBI Director Christopher Wray established in 2017 after federal officials discovered that Russian had interfered in the last presidential election, which Donald Trump won.

The task force has election crime coordinators in each local field office, including San Francisco.

In a statement released to the public Thursday, the FBI stated that “foreign adversaries, including Russia and China,” were attempting to illegally influence the election using three methods:

  • Cyberattacks against political campaigns and government infrastructure: These attacks might include foreign adversaries hacking and leaking sensitive information from computers, databases, networks, phones, and emails.
  • Secret funding or influence operations to help or harm a person or cause: Tactics include political advertising from foreign groups pretending to be U.S. citizens, lobbying by unregistered foreign agents, and illegal campaign contributions from foreign adversaries.
  • Disinformation campaigns on social media platforms that confuse, trick, or upset the public: For example, a foreign group may purposefully spread false or inconsistent information about an existing social issue to provoke all sides and encourage conflict.

The statement came as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced that the intelligence committee confirmed that Russia was trying to interfere in the election. She demanded that the treasury department act and impose sanctions on Russia.

The FBI said it’s combating these illegal campaigns by informing the public of what they learn from their federal partners and social media companies. The FITF hopes its relationships with social media companies will inspired them to help share threat information, though it admits that these companies “independently make decisions regarding the content of their platforms and the safety of their members.”

“The FITF considers strategic engagement with U.S. technology companies, including threat indicator sharing, to be critically important in combating foreign influence actors,” the statement read. “We cannot let our guard down when it comes to protecting our elections and we certainly will do everything possible to prevent any foreign power from engaging in malign foreign influence.”

The FBI also provided a checklist for the public to use to help prevent foreign influence, which says:

  • Ask simple questions: Ask yourself, “Who are you talking to online?” and “Where did the information you are reading come from?” Maintain a general awareness that foreign adversaries seek to deepen divisions in the United States. They may be counting on you to forward information you don’t know to be accurate.
  • Ask where information originated: Know the origin of information, including the ideology and motivation of the source, and seek out multiple sources to make informed judgements. Be aware of your own assumptions and biases, and how a foreign adversary may choose to manipulate them.
  • Be aware of social media deception: Social media provides our adversaries with a way to easily and anonymously connect with them, so users should know their contacts and followers before forming a relationship with them virtually.
  • Check your polling information: Before election day, ensure the information you receive about your ballot, polling location, or other general information are sourced to official government websites.
  • Beware of “deep fakes”: Emerging technology used to generate “deep fakes” — advanced synthetic audio and video generated through artificial intelligence — may mimic authentic communications in a manner that is hard to detect and to counter. “Deep fakes” may be able to elicit a range of responses which can compromise election security. The FBI has been working with the private sector to get ahead of this issue.
  • Report suspicious activity to social media platforms: Many social media platforms provide users a means to report suspicious behavior/content. Check the respective site for reporting procedures.
  • Report suspicious activity to the FBI: The public can report all suspicious activity to the FBI San Francisco Division at tips.fbi.gov or by calling 415-553-7400.
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