Russian influence in 2016 US election a social media facilitated democratic and social war

Foreign interference in a country’s election is a serious matter. A US Senate Intelligence Committee report details Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election using social media.

NY Times: Russian 2016 Influence Operation Targeted African-Americans on Social Media

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The New Knowledge report, which was obtained by The New York Times in advance of its scheduled release on Monday, is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used.

The second report was written by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University along with Graphika, a company that specializes in analyzing social media. The Washington Post first reported on the Oxford report on Sunday.

The Russian influence campaign in 2016 was run by a St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency, owned by a businessman, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who is a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Prigozhin and a dozen of the company’s employees were indicted last February as part of the investigation of Russian interference by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

So it would seem that Mueller has been doing some important and successful investigations.

Both reports stress that the Internet Research Agency created social media accounts under fake names on virtually every available platform. A major goal was to support Donald Trump, first against his Republican rivals in the presidential race, then in the general election, and as president since his inauguration.

This wasn’t an anti-Democrat pro-Republican campaign of interference in the election, but also a pro-trump anti-Republican opponent campaign. So it started with interference in democratic selection processes of the Republican Party, and once that was successful it became an anti-Hillary Clinton and Anti-Democrat campaign.

US democracy was already in a poor state, dominated by monied interests, but it has now been trashed further by a foreign government.

And because some people got the election outcome the wanted they make excuses and ignore the serious nature of this interference.

The Russian campaign was the subject of Senate hearings last year and has been widely scrutinized by academic experts. The new reports largely confirm earlier findings: that the campaign was designed to attack Hillary Clinton, boost Mr. Trump and exacerbate existing divisions in American society.

The interference aims also included trying to divide and trash US society.

Questions still need to be answered about why Trump was aided in the candidate selection process and the presidential election. There are claims and indications that the Trump side saw financial and power rewards.

Did the Russians see a potential puppet whose strings they could pull to get US policies that favoured Russia? Or did they see an opportunity to diminish the power of the US by dividing their society? Possibly both.

The threats of nuclear war and the standoff of the Cold War are now history. Russia versus the United States has become a social media facilitated democratic and social war.

But Trump is president and that’s all that matters, the end justifies the means?

The problem with this is that the end is nigh, not done and dusted.

31 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  18th December 2018

    Obviously Mueller has merely publicised investigative work done by the security services. His lawyers are not IT experts with 5 Eyes spying facilities.

    The electoral significance if any of the Russian interference seems in great doubt.

    • Duker

       /  18th December 2018

      Funnily enough I agree with little influence on the voters. Having some facebook accounts ? Likely there were hundreds of millions spent on facebook by other candidates. Didnt Clinton and her supporting PACs spend almost a billion on campaigning and advertising.
      from the Russians point of view , they were anti Clinton as she had hardline views while Trump was more amenable and not in thrall to the US foreign policy ‘industry’
      I understand that working with a foreign government during the election is illegal, so quite a few Trump s senior aides during campaign including some in his own family could be in serious trouble over this – especially the hacking of Podestas emails which the Trump campaign knew or colluded with those who knew about them.
      Just like the paying off the 2 women , has 2 witnesses putting an unnamed person ( Trump) in the same room when decision was made, maybe some witnesses about ‘collusion’ will put Trump in the room when decisions made.

    • Griff.

       /  18th December 2018

      The electoral significance if any of the Russian interference seems in great doubt.
      Yess Alan
      Of course we can look back on this blog and find Trumpwits posting Russian sourced anti Clinton pro trump propaganda on here.
      Suckers who were played for fools …..still believe despite the overwhelming evidence.
      https://www.wired.com/story/mueller-investigation-trump-russia-complete-guide/
      The Orange one is looking at a long time behind bars.
      Does it matter if it is after impeachment or once he leaves office ?

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  18th December 2018

        posting Russian sourced anti Clinton pro trump propaganda on here

        Link to proof or withdraw please.

    • Duker

       /  18th December 2018

      So they didnt ‘register’ as paid lobbyists ? yawn

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  18th December 2018

      An 80 year old law with 7 prosecutions in the past 50 years now dusted off for political purposes by Mueller and the Democrats.

      Could be some issues whether it is even constitutional. Could that be why the charge is conspiring to break the law rather than just actually breaking it?

      • Duker

         /  18th December 2018

        Mueller and the democrats ?
        Mueller was appointed by a Republican attorney general, much like the prosecutors in ‘Southern District of New York’- a federal jurisdiction which requires Presidential signoff.
        That particular crime just arose out of investigation in Flynns more serious crimes.

      • Duker

         /  18th December 2018

        80 yr old law. Which was last amended in the 80s. Five more cases have been bought since Trump became President, so its not just Mueller whos dusted it off

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  18th December 2018

          All five by Mueller?

          • Duker

             /  18th December 2018

            “U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections.
            U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General.
            And U.S. law requires certain foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States to obtain a visa by providing truthful and accurate information to the government.
            heres a whole list of Russians indicted under those provisions
            ” Defendant INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY LLC (”ORGANIZATION”) is a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.
            Defendants MIKHAIL IVANOVICH BYSTROV, MIKHAIL LEONIDOVICH BURCHIK, ALEKSANDRA YURYEVNA KRYLOVA, ANNA VLADISLAVOVNA BOGACHEVA, SERGEY PAVLOVICH POLOZOV, MARIA ANATOLYEVNA BOVDA, ROBERT SERGEYEVICH ·BOVDA, DZHEYKHUN NASIMI OGLY ASLANOV, VADIM VLADIMIROVICH PODKOPAEV, GLEB IGOREVICH VASILCHENKO, IRINA VIKTOROVNA KAVERZINA, and VLADIMIR VENKOV worked in various capacities to carry out Defendant ORGANIZATION’s interference operations targeting the United States.
            https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/rosenstein-mueller-indictment-russia/553601/

            • Duker

               /  18th December 2018

              is it a surprise an inquiry into foreign influence, uses laws on the books ( one of which was FARA) that can be used against those who were a party to those foreign entities?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  18th December 2018

              So the answer was yes.

            • Duker

               /  18th December 2018

              There was one other very recent non Muellar case, a Pakistan national..Meanwhile 100s of foreign lobbyists have come out of the woodwork and registered

      • Mefrostate

         /  18th December 2018

        “It’s not a real crime” The scale of your blinders is unparalleled Alan.

        • Gezza

           /  18th December 2018

          I think I can see what the problem is…he’s blinded by a light

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  18th December 2018

          It won’t be a real crime if it is ruled unconstitutional. It will certainly be a political one. Take off your own blinkers, Mefro, and don’t plant words on others they didn’t say.

          • Duker

             /  18th December 2018

            Who is claiming what is unconstitutional and under what grounds

  2. Trevors_Elbow

     /  18th December 2018

    Hillary “I was the best candidate, bloody Russians…… and those DEPLORABLES in the rust belt”

    Dem’s still digging. They may find something, but probably something ambiguous and non definitive. But what the Dems have really done is opened themselves up to some in depth digging next time they have the White House…. they have made the political scene in the US even more dirty and disgusting…

    • Duker

       /  18th December 2018

      No ‘Dems digging ‘, They have had no political power in last 2 years ( Attorney general and all federal prosecutors are appointed by Trump) and it isnt a state government investigation.

      • Trevors_Elbow

         /  18th December 2018

        Mueller was appointed by the DoJ….not by Trump. Part of the way the US works is that it allows the party not in power to still get people in places of investigative power to attack political opponents… The FBI investigation Mueller took over was also in play before Trump took office, the investigation started in July 2016 well before the vote took place….. So yeah, nah its definitely not something Trump instigated or can control, and it is definitely a Dem driven power play now.

        • Duker

           /  18th December 2018

          Appointed by DOJ ?
          No he wasnt. It was an appointment by Trumps deputy attorney General Rosenstein, but would have been former republican senator and Trumps Attorney general Jeff Sessions if he hadnt been involved with meeting Russians during campaign and which he had misled the Senate during his confirmation.
          Rosenstein has long history of appointments by republican presidents

          • Duker

             /  18th December 2018

            Mueller, too has long history of appointments by Republicans, assistant Attorney general and head of the FBI. Both by republican presidents

    • High Flying Duck

       /  18th December 2018

  3. kluelis

     /  18th December 2018

    The reality is that whether the Dem’s or the Rep’s are in power 99% of USA policy stays exactly the same.

    • Duker

       /  18th December 2018

      No its not ‘policy’ what ever you mean by that. Federal prosecutors are appointed by Presidents for a reason and theres a reason why many go onto elected political office . Clue – they are partisan. second clue almost all federal prosecutors appointed by Obama admin have been replaced by people Trump has approved.
      No Dems ‘investigating Trump’- that will change after Jan as they have control of one part of the Congress and will go after Trumps crooked cabinet

  4. The first report, produced by the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, analysed the impact that social-media companies had on the election.

    Here are the report’s key takeaways:
    * Russia has “active and ongoing interference operations” that “remain on several platforms.”
    * The Russians specifically targeted the African-American community with the goal of “developing black audiences” and “recruiting black Americans as assets.”
    * The Russians used an array of tactics to suppress Democratic voter turnout.
    * Russia-linked accounts used Twitter to spread misinformation about voting rules.
    * They tried to sway voter opinion in favour of third-party candidates.
    * They urged voters to stay home on Election Day by pushing messages like, “Your vote doesn’t matter.”
    * The Internet Research Agency (IRA) – a Russian troll farm indicted by the special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year – used Instagram as a “significant front” for its operation.
    * The IRA demonstrated a “very clear bias” in favour of then candidate Donald Trump beginning during the primaries.
    * “A substantial portion” of the IRA’s political content was focused on provoking an anti-Hillary Clinton sentiment.
    * There was no pro-Clinton Russian content on either Facebook or Instagram. While there was some pro-Clinton content on Twitter, Russia-linked accounts that leaned left were still largely anti-Clinton and pushed messaging favouring Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.
    * The IRA shifted more of its focus to Instagram in 2017, as the media began covering Russian activity on Facebook and Twitter.
    * Executives at Facebook, which owns Instagram, “avoided mentioning” the extent of the IRA’s use of Instagram in congressional testimony.
    * Russia-linked accounts had 187 million engagements across Instagram and reached approximately 20 million users, not including “regrams,” or posts that users repost using an outside sharing app.
    * They had 76.5 million engagements on Facebook that reached an estimated 126 million people.
    * Russia-linked content had more engagement on Instagram because it was more conducive to “meme warfare,” a key facet of Russia’s influence operation.
    * The IRA pushed secessionist movements in states like Texas and California to “exacerbate discord against the government at federal, state, and local levels.”
    * The troll farm made efforts to either increase or erode support for prominent political figures, including Robert Mueller, John McCain, Ted Cruz, Julian Assange, and James Comey.

    Following is a link to that report:
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/f3jav3mfd87g4pq/Whitepaper%20final.pdf

    The second report was compiled by the University of Oxford and Graphika, and is the first to study the millions of posts provided by major tech firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    The report found that the IRA worked to polarize the US public using a variety of tactics, including urging African-American voters to sit out the election and disseminating false or misleading voting information to groups that tend to vote Democratic, like Mexican-American and Hispanic voters, including “extreme right-wing voters to be confrontational,” and spreading sensationalist, conspiratorial, and misleading news across the political spectrum.

    Other key takeaways:
    * Between 2013 and 2018 the IRA’s influence operations across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram reached “tens of millions” of users in the US.
    * Between 2015 and 2017, over 30 million users shared the IRA’s content on Facebook and Twitter.
    * The IRA’s ad volume on Facebook peaked in April 2017, coinciding with the Trump-ordered missile strike on a Syrian air base, the US’ use of the Mother of all Bombs on tunnels controlled by the Islamic State in Afghanistan, and the Republicans’ release of a tax-reform plan.
    * Following the 2016 election, Instagram saw the greatest spike in IRA activity.
    * The IRA began its disinformation campaign on Twitter but later expanded to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube as the 2016 election grew nearer.
    * Russian social-media activity peaked – in both advertisements and organic posts – around important dates in the US political sphere.

    A link to the second report follows:
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5631936-IRA-Report-17-Dec.html

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  18th December 2018

      Any evidence it changed anyone’s vote?

      • No direct evidence presented yet. But much the same could be said of the burglars who broke into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

        There was no evidence their actions changed anyone’s vote for Nixon. Nevertheless, the outcome was indisputable.