New reports shed light on Russian’s attempts to manipulate the American public even after the 2016 election.
Earlier this week, the Washing Post revealed how after Trump’s election, Russia’s intelligence team utilized various social media platforms to undermine special counsel Robert Muller’s credibility as the latter continued his investigation on Russian interference.
Two reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee went public on December 17th. It turned out that Russia’s disinformation campaign carried on for a longer period of time than previously imagined.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is led by its chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and its ranking Democrat Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). Members emphasized the bipartisan nature of the committee, claiming that reports produced by the panel “do not necessarily represent the views” of its members.
The first report was conducted by an analyst firm named Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika. It elaborated on how Russian personnel at the Internet Research Agency, an institution already charged by the U.S. for manipulating voters with false information back in 2016, separated the American electorate into different demographic groups and selected key groups as targets. Such attempts became more visible during important events including conventions and presidential debates.
To aid research efforts, Facebook, Twitter and Google all provided relevant data up to mid-2017. But the report left out any more recent development including whether Russia had an influence in this year’s midterm elections.
Researchers at New Knowledge, Columbia University and Canfield Research submitted the second report on the topic. The document explored Russia’s infiltration of the African American community.
“The IRA created an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem,” the report wrote.
The second report also contained fresh data on the extent to which Russia used social media to spread false information. It turned out that they posted over 1,000 on YouTube. Russians also learned to make use of Instagram, a tool they found to be twice as effective in engaging the public as Facebook or Twitter.
This was the first evidence obtained by the Senate Intelligence Committee received that thoroughly examined millions of posts, tracking comments, shares, likes as well as other online interactions with a special metrics system beyond what is visible on the screen.
“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump,” the report said. “Trump is 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.”
However, Trump has for months denied the existence of Russian interference and then turned to downplay its impact when it became clear that Russia’s role in the 2016 election could no longer stay hidden.
Diplomatically, Trump has not been consistent regarding his attitudes toward Russia. While officially promoting a tough stance toward the country, Trump has at times endorsed Vladimir Putin’s statements despite the counsels of America’s own intelligence officers. Recently, after Putin publicly endorsed Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, Trump again attempted to create an uncompromising image toward Russia though few bought into this narrative.
Featured image via Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP