Reports show breadth of Russian social media abuse
by Harvest Prude
Posted 12/18/18, 11:54 am
WASHINGTON—Russia’s social media campaign to sow discord and disinformation in U.S. politics is still an ongoing and far-reaching threat, two reports released Monday by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded. The Senate commissioned two third-party research groups, Oxford University/Graphika and New Knowledge, to study Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election using data provided by the social media companies.
Researchers found that Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) workers posed as Americans on a host of social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, and others. While the messages they posted were intended to boost then-candidate Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential bid, researchers warned that Russian interference was by no means a thing of the past. They said that “active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms.”
The report found that Russians targeted African-American audiences, attempting to convince them not to vote while exploiting racial tensions. Out of 81 IRA-created Facebook pages studied, 30 targeted African-Americans with a total of 1.2 million followers. About 25 targeted Republican groups, drawing 1.4 million followers. Seven focused on the political left, with 689,045 followers. The IRA also heavily used Instagram, garnering 187 million engagements on Russian-run accounts, compared to 77 million on Facebook and 73 million on Twitter.
Recently, Russian messages on social media also have regularly attacked special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller’s office has already indicted 13 IRA workers, including IRA owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Researchers warned: “We should certainly expect to see recruitment, manipulation, and influence attempts targeting the 2020 election, including the inauthentic amplification of otherwise legitimate American narratives.”
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