Election Meddling Detailed in Senate-Ordered Reports

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Intelligence Committee unveiled two reports Monday detailing a broad range of interference and disinformation campaigns run on social media by online Russian-backed operatives.

Put together by third-party researchers not associated with the Senate committee, the reports include one 101-page analysis by the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge of several “active and ongoing interference operations,” several of which continue to exist on a variety of platforms.

The New Knowledge report takes aim at Russian-linked Twitter accounts and the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency for pressuring U.S. voters to stay home on Election Day 2016. Such organizations also demonstrated a bias against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton while promoting the campaign of Republican Donald Trump.

The special counsel’s office raised similar allegations earlier this year in an indictment of Internet Research Agency and other Russian people and entities.

The University of Oxford and Graphika, a social network analysis firm, are behind the second report. This 47-page paper accuses the Internet Research Agency of encouraging the spread of conspiracy theories and specifically promoting “extreme right-wing voters” to be confrontational, among other tactics.

The New Knowledge report specifies that the Russians targeted certain demographics, in particular, “African American communities and interests.”

Such interference was also timed, according to the report, to coincide with local events such as rallies or protests, especially if an event was focused on “police brutality related content.”

Black women who expressed interest online for “black economic empowerment” or “black enterprise” were also targeted in ads backed by the Russian agency.

All told, there were more than 187 million total user engagements with Russia-linked accounts across Instagram, researchers found. Roughly 20 million users of the site were directly contacted. 

On Facebook, trolls accrued staggering engagement rates as well, totaling some 76.5 million interactions which reached an estimated 126 million people.

“The data provided … clearly illustrates that for five years, Russia has waged a propaganda war against American citizens, manipulating social media narratives to influence American culture and politics,” the report states.

The Graphika report corroborates the accounts of racial targeting, citing instances where black communities were urged to “boycott elections or follow the wrong voting procedures in 2016” and where “Mexican American and Hispanic voters [were] urged to distrust U.S. institutions.”

Graphika also found that the indictment of the Internet Research Agency did not stop the disinformation campaign.

“The highest peak of IRA ad volume on Facebook is in April 2017 – the month of the Syrian missile strike, the use of the Mother of All Bombs on ISIS tunnels in eastern Afghanistan and the release of the tax reform plan,” the report states, abbreviating Internet Research Agency.

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