Months after President Trump's inauguration, Russian disinformation teams set a new target: Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III. They worked to help Trump get into the White House and were now working to neutralize the biggest threat to his stay there.
The Russian agents threw themselves down on fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections were ridicule. An Instagram post – which proved to be a particularly powerful weapon in Russia's social media arsenal – claimed that Mueller had worked with "radical Islamic groups" in the past.
Such tactics exemplified how Russian teams moved on social media platforms, an ingenious online influence aimed directly at American voters. The efforts began earlier than commonly known and took longer, relying on the strengths of different locations to manipulate various sections of the electorate, according to two comprehensive new reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee and released on Monday.
Reports compiled by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis company Graphika were published when the Washington Post received them and released their highlights on Sunday. The other report was produced by social media research firm New Knowledge, Columbia University and Canfield Research.
Together, the reports describe the Russian campaign with comprehensive and previously unavailable information. The researchers analyzed more than 10 million posts and messages on every major social media platform to understand how the Russians used American technology to create a sprawling online disinformation engine, with each piece playing a specific role and the others playing with it Supported links and other connections. 19659008] The reports also highlight the difficulty of defeating Russian disinformation as workers moved easily from platform to platform, making it impossible to identify and delete misleading posts for any company.
Twitter met the political and journalistic elites. Facebook and its advertising targeting tools separated voters into demographic and ideological areas that were ripe for manipulation, with a particular focus on strengthening conservatives and suppressing African-Americans who are traditionally more in favor of Democrats.
YouTube provided a free online library with more information than 1,100 disinformation videos. PayPal helped raise money and motivate politically motivated goods designed by Russian teams, such as: B. T-shirts titled "I SUPPORT AMERICAN LAW ENFORCEMENT". Tumblr, Medium, Vine, Reddit and several other websites also played a role.
"We hope that these reports will provide clarity to both Americans and policymakers, highlighting the far-reaching scope of the operation and the long-playing game. Said Renee DiResta, Research Director at New Knowledge.
Social media researchers said the weapon of these sites and services underscores the growing challenge they face in tackling the increasingly complex tactics of Russia and other foreign malefactors on the Internet have to deal with. "
From platforms that are not as busy but still have very engaged communities, they are most vulnerable to a challenge such as misinformation, "said Graham Brookie, director of Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. "They do not have the resources to make their platforms more resilient."
An unexpected star of Monday's new reports was Facebook's photo-sharing subsidiary Instagram. Over the years of the disinformation campaign, Instagram generated responses on a different scale than the others – with 187 million comments, likes and other user responses, more than Twitter and Facebook combined.
But it was the least explored of the major platforms this week as lawmakers, researchers, and journalists focused more on Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The use of Instagram by the Russian teams more than doubled in the first six months after Trump's election. It also provided access to a younger population and offered easy preferences in a simple, engaging format.
"Instagram is where the kids are and that seems to be where the Russians left off," said Philip N. Howard, head of the Oxford research group.
The New Knowledge-based report found that Russians had posted 116,000 times on Instagram, almost twice as often as on Facebook, as documented in the report. The most popular posts praised African-American culture and achievement, but the Russians also targeted these platforms to stop voter-suppression messages on multiple platforms, to demand boycotts of choice, or to spread false information about voting behavior. On Monday, the NAACP called from Tuesday for a week-long boycott of Facebook. The company's business practices and dissemination of "disingenuous representations of the African American community" on its website should prompt further investigation by the Congress.
Facebook said in a statement that it had made "progress in preventing interference on our platforms during the election, reinforced the policy against the suppression of voters in the run up to the midterms of 2018, and conducted independent research on the impact of social media on the Financed by democracy ".
Reddit and Medium did not respond immediately to comment requests. Tumblr pointed to a blog entry in November stating that the company had canceled Russian disinformation prior to the election this year. PayPal said it "combats and prevents the unauthorized use of our services". Twitter said it has "taken significant steps since 2016 to counteract the manipulation of our service."
The emergence of Müller as an important goal also highlights the adaptability of the Russian campaign. He was appointed as a special attorney in May 2017 to investigate allegations of Russian influence on the Trump campaign. In this role, he has charged a Kremlin-affiliated troll farm called the Internet Research Agency and other disinformation campaigners.
A research team from Clemson University that does not belong to any of the reports published on Monday found out that the Russians tweeted more than 5,000 times about Müller, including retweets that were first posted by others. Some demanded his dismissal, while others mocked him as incompetent and others fought for the end of his "total fake investigation."
New Knowledge's report focused on Müller and FBI Director James B. Comey, who was falsely portrayed as a "dirty cop."
Russian activists often spread jokes to undermine investigations in their disinformation campaign, the researchers found. One showed Democrat Hillary Clinton saying, "Everyone I do not like is a Russian hacker." Another showed a woman in a car talking to a police officer, saying, "It's not a fake officer, the Russians hacked my speedometer. "
Shortly after the elections in 2016, Russian activists also began to mock Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg by saying that social media had no bearing on Trump's victory – an assertion he claims apologizing later
On Capitol Hill, top Democrats said on Monday that the revelations in the two Senate reports had emphasized the need to study social media and consider new regulations to prevent Russia and other foreign actors from becoming American Manipulate democracy in future elections.
19659027] "I think all platforms are highly vulnerable and I do not have confidence that companies have invested the resources and power of people to cope with the scale of the problem." said MP Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
In particular, Schiff described the Instagram revelations as "surprising," contradicting the data and statements Facebook had previously given to the committee. "If Facebook did not know about it, it's a problem," he said. "If they were aware of that and did not share that information, that's a completely different problem."
Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.), chairman of the committee, who asked the researchers to analyze the data of the tech companies, said the results show "how aggressively Russia sought to divide the Americans by race, religion and ideology. "
Every other GOP legislator on the Senate Intelligence Committee declined to comment or did not respond.
Facebook officials barely discussed Instagram's role when they testified to Russian interference at the congress last year. At the time, the company said the Russian campaign reached 126 million people on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram.