Printable Page Headline News   Return to Menu - Page 1 2 3 5 6 7 8 13
Russia Still Roiling US Politics       12/18 06:23

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Russia's sweeping political disinformation campaign on 
U.S. social media was more far-reaching than originally thought, with troll 
farms working to discourage black voters and "blur the lines between reality 
and fiction" to help elect Donald Trump in 2016, according to reports released 
Monday by the Senate intelligence committee.

   And the campaign didn't end with Trump's ascent to the White House. Troll 
farms are still working to stoke racial and political passions in America at a 
time of high political discord.

   The two studies are the most comprehensive picture yet of the Russian 
interference campaigns on American social media. They add to the portrait 
investigators have been building since 2017 on Russia's influence --- though 
Trump has equivocated on whether the interference actually happened.

   Facebook, Google and Twitter declined to comment on the specifics of the 

   The reports were compiled by the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge and by the 
Computational Propaganda Research Project, a study by researchers at the 
University of Oxford and Graphika, a social media analysis firm.

   The Oxford report details how Russians broke down their messages to 
different groups, including discouraging black voters from going to the polls 
and stoking anger on the right.

   "These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of 
the African-American community was to boycott the election and focus on other 
issues instead," the researchers wrote.

   At the same time, "Messaging to conservative and right-wing voters sought to 
do three things: repeat patriotic and anti-immigrant slogans; elicit outrage 
with posts about liberal appeasement of 'others' at the expense of US citizens, 
and encourage them to vote for Trump."

   The report from New Knowledge says there are still some live accounts tied 
to the original Internet Research Agency, which was named in an indictment from 
special counsel Robert Mueller in February for an expansive social media 
campaign intended to influence the 2016 presidential election. Some of the 
accounts have a presence on smaller platforms as the major companies have tried 
to clean up after the Russian activity was discovered.

   "With at least some of the Russian government's goals achieved in the face 
of little diplomatic or other pushback, it appears likely that the United 
States will continue to face Russian interference for the foreseeable future," 
the researchers wrote.

   The New Knowledge report says that none of the social media companies turned 
over complete data sets to Congress and some of them "may have misrepresented 
or evaded" in testimony about the interference by either intentionally or 
unintentionally downplaying the scope of the problem.

   The Senate panel has been investigating Russian interference on social media 
and beyond for almost two years. Intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr 
said in a statement that the data shows how aggressively Russia tried to divide 
Americans by race, religion and ideology and erode trust in institutions.

   "Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped," said 
Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

   One major takeaway from both studies is the breadth of Russian interference 
that appeared on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and was not frequently 
mentioned when its parent company testified on Capitol Hill. The study says 
that as attention was focused on Facebook and Twitter in 2017, the Russians 
shifted much of their activity to Instagram.

   The New Knowledge study says that there were 187 million engagements with 
users on Instagram, while there were 77 million on Facebook.

   "Instagram was a significant front in the IRA's influence operation, 
something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in 
congressional testimony," the researchers wrote. They added that "our 
assessment is that Instagram is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing 

   The Russian activity went far beyond the three tech companies that provided 
information, reaching many smaller sites as well. The New Knowledge report 
details sophisticated attempts to infiltrate internet games, browser extensions 
and music apps. The Russians even used social media to encourage users of the 
game Pokemon Go --- which was at peak popularity in the months before the 2016 
presidential election --- to use politically divisive usernames, for example.

   The report discusses even more unconventional ways that the Russian accounts 
attempted to connect with Americans and recruit assets, such as merchandise 
with certain messages, specific follower requests, job offers and even help 
lines that could encourage people to unknowingly disclose sensitive information 
to Russia that could later be used against them.

   The Russians' attempts to influence Americans on social media first became 
widely public in the fall of 2017. Several months later, Mueller's indictment 
laid out a vast, organized Russian effort to sway political opinion. While the 
social media companies had already detailed some of the efforts, the indictment 
tied actual people to the operation and named 13 Russians responsible.

   Also notable is the study's finding that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange 
was favorably treated in posts aimed at both left-leaning and right-leaning 
users. The New Knowledge report says there were a number of posts expressing 
support for Assange and Wikileaks, including several in October 2016 just 
before WikiLeaks released hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign.

   The Oxford study notes that peaks in Internet Research Agency advertising 
and organic activity --- or posts, shares and comments by users --- often 
corresponded with important dates on the U.S. calendar, crises and 
international events.

   The researchers from Oxford said that organic postings were much more far 
reaching than advertisements, despite Facebook's sole focus on ads when the 
company first announced it had been compromised in 2017.

   Other findings in the studies:

   --- During the week of the presidential election, posts directed to 
right-leaning users aimed to generate anger and suspicion and hinted at voter 
fraud, while posts targeted to African-Americans largely ignored mentions of 
the election until the last minute.

   --- Establishment figures of both parties, especially Clinton, were 
universally panned. Even a tag targeted to feminists criticized Clinton and 
promoted her primary opponent, independent Bernie Sanders;

   --- Several posts promoted the Russian agenda in Syria and Syrian President 
Bashar Assad.

   --- IRA's posts focused on the United States started on Twitter as far back 
as 2013, and eventually evolved into the multi-platform strategy.

   --- Russian activity on Twitter was less organized around themes like race 
or partisanship but more driven by local and current events and made use of 
occasional pop culture references.

   --- Facebook posts linked to the IRA "reveal a nuanced and deep knowledge of 
American culture, media, and influencers in each community the IRA targeted." 
Certain memes appeared on pages targeted to younger people but not older 
people. "The IRA was fluent in American trolling culture," the researchers say.


Copyright DTN. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.
Powered By DTN