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Wray Touts Feds' Often-And-Early Strategy To Thwart Disinformation

FBI Director Christopher Wray arrives for a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP via Getty Images
FBI Director Christopher Wray arrives for a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

The FBI and Big Tech platforms are trying to combat foreign disinformation by rooting it out early and often to deny it mass and momentum, Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Thursday.

The more fake accounts that can get started sharing false stories or increasing agitation, the more consequential those efforts can become, Wray said.

So his strategy working with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has been to act as swiftly as possible to step in and stop those efforts at the seedling stage before they grow into something more substantive and problematic.

"It's only effective if it seems credible and it's only credible if its built up a certain reservoir of credibility," Wray said. "If we're able to shut them down and knock them back quickly, it's not going to stop it — but it means it's much, much less effective."

Wray gave the example of a recent operation in which the FBI told Facebook that it had identified some nascent mischief by Russia's now-infamous trolling and agitation mill, the "Internet Research Agency," and Facebook then deleted the accounts being used in that scheme.

This strategy and the cooperation it requires was the result of painful recognition by U.S. officials and Big Tech about the 2016 election, in which they missed or downplayed the importance of that year's social media agitation. The weeds, in this metaphor, took over the garden.

Wray says now the goal is to stay on top of those efforts, although he acknowledged what he called room to improve by both the FBI and the tech platforms.

"The strides we've made at the FBI has been very encouraging — I'd like to see more progress especially from [Big Tech] but we're moving in the right direction."

Follow updates on the hearing here.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.