, 15 tweets, 7 min read
Russia and Iran are engaged in disinformation campaigns aimed at US citizens. Twitter just released over 10 million tweets from over 4500 Russian and Iranian accounts engaged in influence operations dating back to 2009. We've analyzed the data. Here's what you need to know...
Russia's influence operations are far-reaching, aimed at a number of countries. This, of course, includes ops aimed at US voters in 2016, but also includes their own people. 58 Russian-language accounts tweeted regional "news" related to Crimea, Syria, and other military action.
44 US-directed local "news" accounts amassed over half a million followers. By using local-sounding news source names, they were able to dupe Americans from *other* regions to share what they thought was authentic news.
Even the mainstream media cited many of these Russian accounts, both before and after the 2016 presidential election. money.cnn.com/2018/06/21/tec…
The Russian tweets released by Twitter today come from 3841 accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Approximately 1.4 million people engaged with these tweets.
These tweets took four main forms:
- Newsbots, sharing both authentic and fabricated news
- Repurposed commercial bots
- Right-leaning conversational accounts
- Left-leaning conversational accounts
These conversational accounts were likely *not* bots, but false personas controlled by real individuals.
While the IRA accounts certainly tweeted about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, their US-directed accounts largely focused on divisive social issues like gun rights, LGBTQ+ rights, police brutality, racial issues, and religious issues.
By amplifying existing polarizing content about domestic social issues, these Russian accounts could turn American attention away from Russian military aggression in Asia and the Middle East without having to create their own "fake news". (Though they did that, too.)
IRA accounts also sought to build a following by tweeting about innocuous content or using general hashtags to get content in front of large audiences. This includes hashtags like #news, #sports, #politics, #local, #follow, #bmw, #business, #nation, #entertainment & #top_stories.
IRA accounts shifted their topical focus quite drastically over time, especially post-election. The top hashtags each year evolve from general in 2015 to slightly election-focused on 2016 to extremely focused on divisive social topics in 2017.
Post content reveals similar shifts in topic over time, often following the news, but also revealing Russia's evolving priorities. For example, here are some prominent topics.
Some divisive social topics were prominent in IRA tweets, even when not discussing presidential candidates. Nevertheless, some of those topics still peaked in late-2016, presumably to swing public sentiment more subtly.
Images & memes played an important role in IRA operations. In early 2016, IRA Twitter images boosted Trump and stoked racial tension. Images become more anti-Clinton from July to Nov 2016. After the election, the IRA shifted back to stoking racial tension through images.
We're continuing to analyze this trove of Russian data. There are many more updates to come. Keep your eyes here and on our blog for more analysis of foreign influence operations. newknowledge.com/blog
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