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Two new reports are out today and offer the most extensive look yet at the Russian Internet Research Agency’s attempts to divide Americans, suppress votes, and boost then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Let’s dig in. 1/
The reports, produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee, reviewed 10.4M tweets, 1,100 YouTube videos, 116,000 Instagram posts & 61,500 Facebook posts from 2015-2017. It’s the largest analysis to take place outside of the companies themselves 2/
The report by cybersecurity firm New Knowledge detailed how social media was part of an extensive, complex campaign to suppress the black American vote by the Russian firm Internet Research Agency. 3/
Of the 33 most popular Facebook pages linked to the IRA, nearly half focused on black audiences. Much of this content seemed designed to stoke distrust among black Americans in democratic institutions and depress black turnout for Hillary Clinton. 4/
In addition to misinformation, Russian trolls tried to mislead potential American voters into texting their votes (which you can’t do) and encouraged them to vote for third-party candidates or give up on voting altogether. 5/
That the Kremlin-backed IRA aimed to pit Americans against each other with divisive memes is well known. But this report reveals just how bizarre some of their outreach got. One Facebook page called Army of Jesus offered free counseling to people with sexual addiction. 6/
The New Knowledge report concludes that “Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency.” A dozen IRA accounts attracted more than 100,000 followers, commonly viewed as a threshold to mark an account an “influencer.” 7/
The most successful accounts were focused on black culture, feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, Christianity, veterans, and gun rights, and garnered more than 10 million interactions—likes and comments—each. 8/
As media started to catch on about Russian interference and turn attention to Facebook and Twitter, the IRA ramped up on Instagram, the report says, with post totals more than doubling from roughly 2,600 posts a month in 2016 to almost 6,000 in 2017. 9/
So did this propaganda influence the 2016 presidential election? The researchers can’t say. That’s partly to do with the squishy nature of measuring political persuasion and partly to do with the fact that some key data remains missing. 10/
Still, what these millions of digital artifacts do show is just how much planning and coordination went into the IRA scheme. The trolls created their own mini-internet to prop up Trump and spread distrust in his opponent and the election system itself. 11/
Want to know more? You can read more about these reports and their implications here: 12/
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