LONDON — Russians have “set up shop” in Scotland as it weighs a vote on independence from the U.K., a senator warned Wednesday at a congressional inquiry into the role of Google, Twitter, and Facebook in election interference.
“It hasn't stopped and it won't stop,” he said. “It’s still happening. We know the Russians were involved in the French election. We know that they were involved in the German elections."
King added: “We are now learning they were involved in the separation of Spain. And my understanding is they've set up shop in Scotland which is talking about an independence vote from Great Britain. So this is a sophisticated worldwide strategy that applied here in 2016.”
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He did not elaborate on his comment about Scotland, but he may have been referring to the 2015 creation of a new base in Edinburgh for Kremlin-owned media outlet, Sputnik.
A senior British lawmaker said Thursday he would demand answers from Facebook on whether Russians were using the social network to sow discord in Scotland.
Damian Collins, chairman of a British parliamentary committee that is already investigating fake news and Russian online propaganda, said: "We are interested in any political activity on Facebook in the U.K. which has been driven by Russian-backed organizations. We will certainly be asking Facebook about this as part of our inquiry into the power of fake news to disrupt our democracy."
Lawmakers believe Russian internet trolls are using divisive issues in other nations in order to magnify social conflict and weaken governments.
In September, Facebook acknowledged hundreds of fake accounts, probably run from Russia, spent about $100,000 on ads aimed on issues such as gun control and race relations during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) also said Russian troll farms were hashtagging "take a knee" and "boycott NFL" to amplify the NFL protest issue. He said the effort involved "taking both sides of the argument" to increase divisiveness in the country.
Sputnik is currently recruiting a broadcast journalist in Edinburgh, according to a job description that says the agency “will give an alternative perspective on the news affecting people’s lives in the U.K.”
Alastair Jamieson is a London-based reporter, editor and homepage producer for NBC News.