Russia continues “active and ongoing interference operations” on multiple social media platforms and its influence campaign that marred the 2016 election was both broader and more targeted than previously known – aiming to suppress Democratic voters, particularly African-Americans, according to a report generated for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The “most prolific” efforts by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign, “on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,” said a report conducted by cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, aided by researchers from Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC, and obtained by the New York Times. “Other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, [but] the black community was targeted extensively with dozens,” including the Instagram account @blackstagram and websites like blackmattersus.com and blacktivist.info.
“This new report prepared for the Senate on the 2016 Russian disinformation campaign aligns with the patterns of activity we observed from Russian social media operations during the 2018 midterm election cycle,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future and former lead for the NSA’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats office. “In particular, that Russian influence operations have continued and evolved since 2016 and that the content propagated by these operations has shifted focus from verifiably false information (or ‘fake news’) to hyper partisan perspectives.”
Even Mueller has been targeted by the Russians campaign, which published posts meant to paint him as corrupt and formerly in cahoots with “radical Islamist groups.”
A second report produced for the committee by Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University and Graphika provided additional detail on the influence campaign and concluded “that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump, who was “mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”
The Washington Post first detailed that report before it was released Monday.
That “squares with the operations we have identified, which are primarily into ‘right trolls,’ largely supportive of President Trump,” said Moriuchi. “These Russian operations did not cease once President Trump was elected and the newly propagated content is predominantly supportive of the President's publicly articulated positions.”
She said Recorded Future has assessed “that ‘left trolls’ are also likely leveraged by Russian influencers but that the network we currently have identified is targeting the far right of American political discourse.”