Russia helped Donald Trump become an unlikely president of the United States in 2016 with fake posts and disinformation spread through social media and then turned on special counsel Robert Mueller when he became the one investigating the involvement of our sworn enemy’s involvement.
The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies. One post on Instagram — which emerged as an especially potent weapon in the Russian social media arsenal — claimed that Mueller had worked in the past with “radical Islamic groups.”
Such tactics exemplified how Russian teams ranged nimbly across social media platforms in a shrewd online influence operation aimed squarely at American voters. The effort started earlier than commonly understood and lasted longer while relying on the strengths of different sites to manipulate distinct slices of the electorate, according to a pair of comprehensive new reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee and released Monday.
Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika looked at more than 10 million posts and messages on the major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and others and found Russia used American technology to construct a huge online disinformation machine that tried to discredit Mueller and his team at every stop of its investigation.
“Twitter hit political and journalistic elites. Facebook and its advertising targeting tools divided the electorate into demographic and ideological segments ripe for manipulation, with particular focus on energizing conservatives and suppressing African Americans, who traditionally are more likely to vote for Democrats,” wrote Craig Timberk, Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin of the Post.
“We hope that these reports provide clarity for the American people and policymakers alike, and make clear the sweeping scope of the operation and the long game being played,” said Renee DiResta, research director at New Knowledge.
The Russians posted more than 1,100 ” disinformation” videos. They used PayPal to raise money and sell politically themed merchandise designed by the Russian teams.
Instagram’s fake posts from Russians drew 187 million comments — more than Facebook and Twitter combined.
On Twitter, Russians posted more than 5,000 tweets about Mueller, many of them calling on Congress and/or Trump to fire him because of his “fake investigation.” The tweets also called fired FBI director James Comey “a dirty cop.”
“I think all the platforms remain keenly vulnerable, and I don’t have the confidence yet companies have invested the resources and people power necessary to deal with the scope of the problem,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. ““If Facebook was unaware of it, it’s one problem. If they were aware of it and didn’t share that information, that’s a completely different problem.”
YouTube did not disclose how many people watched the fake videos, Russia did not release comments by those who saw their fake posts and Twitter withheld key details.
“Regrettably, it appears that the platforms may have misrepresented or evaded in some of their statements to Congress,” The Senate report said.
The current chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said the findings show “how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology.”
“For many months we urged the social media companies to undertake such a crosscutting analysis without success, even as we made as much of their data as public as possible,” said Schiff. Such reluctance “made our task far more difficult than it should have been.”
Twitter, for example, failed to work with the researchers used by the Senate to track Russian influence.
Other Republicans on the committee refused to comment.
Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue