New DETAILS LEAKED On RUSSIAN COLLUSION!
The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to release two reports on Monday detailing the breadth of the Russian social media campaign to sow discord in the United States.
The reports, both of which were commissioned by the committee, are based on troves of data that Facebook, Twitter, and Google handed over to the committee about the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and American politics generally. Much of the data has not previously been disclosed publicly.
Researchers analyzed more than 10 million tweets, 116,000 Instagram posts, 61,000 Facebook posts and 1,000 videos posted by the Russian government-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA), the troll group indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year.
CNN obtained one of the reports in advance of its release. That report was prepared by New Knowledge, a firm that tracks disinformation online. New Knowledge found that the IRA’s efforts went beyond the digital, as the group regularly tried to co-opt unsuspecting Americans to complete real-world tasks or hand over their personal information. CNN and other outlets have previously reported on some efforts like this, but others included in the New Knowledge report had not previously been made public.
In one instance, through its page “Army of Jesus,” which was targeting Christians, the group offered “free counseling to people with sexual addiction,” New Knowledge found.
The phony counseling service could have created an opportunity to blackmail or manipulate individuals who availed of it, the report notes.
“Recruiting an asset by exploiting a personal vulnerability — usually a secret that would inspire shame or cause personal or financial harm if exposed — is a timeless espionage practice,” it says.
New Knowledge says that it is not known whether anyone took up the offer of counseling.
CNN has previously reported that the IRA co-opted unsuspecting Americans to coordinate protests in the U.S., in one instance even paying a Florida man to build a cage to bring to an event advocating for the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton.
The IRA’s content unquestionably favored Trump over his opponent, supporting him as early as the primaries. Pro-Trump content featured mainly on conservative pages and rarely appeared in left-leaning circles.
There are other pieces of evidence. One is that Russia aimed to stop people from voting, and lower turnout historically favors Republican candidates. Another shows that the IRA disparaged Clinton in nearly all of its social media pages on every platform, regardless of whether the page targeted conservatives, liberals, or racial and ethnic groups.
And here’s one of the more shocking revelations: Russia promoted violence in the event of a Trump loss.
In nearly 110 Facebook posts including fake images of election machine error messages or ballots, the IRA targeted conservative users with false information about supposed widespread voter fraud aimed at helping Clinton win. More than 70 of those posts went up the month before the election. They made a variety of false claims, including that states were secretly working to help Clinton win; that militias were organizing to stop the fraud; and that citizens could call a (fake) 1-800 number to report discrepancies.
“The most prolific IRA efforts 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.”
Russians Aimed To Sow Racial Divisions
That’s one of the stunning conclusions from the report by researchers from New Knowledge, Columbia University, and Canfield Research LLC. In other words, Russia deliberately aimed to sow and exploit racial divisions in the United States.
The IRA created domain names such as blackvswhite.info, blackmattersusa.com, and blacktolive.org. It made YouTube channels — such as “Cop Block US” and “Don’t Shoot” — to spread anti-Clinton videos. About 1,060 videos produced by 10 distinct channels discussed Black Lives Matter or violent police actions; 571 of the videos included keywords about the police and their abuses.
Some of the IRA’s work focused on Muslim or Christian culture, Texas culture, and even LGBTQ culture, but no other racial or social group received as much attention from the Russians as black Americans.
“While other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the Black community was targeted extensively with dozens; this is why we have elected to assess the messaging directed at Black Americans as a distinct and significant operation,” the report says.
What’s worse, Russia found unwitting Americans to serve as assets who helped spread the IRA’s propaganda. According to the report, that tactic “was substantially more pronounced” on accounts that targeted black social media users.
Only 11 percent of the IRA’s social media content was about the election, leading people to engage with it about 246 million times.
A lot of the content had to do with gun rights, veterans issues, patriotism, feminism, and even the movement to have California secede from the US. It’s very likely, though, that the IRA aimed to stoke divisions based on those issues in part to influence the election.
National security issues also featured prominently in the IRA’s content, including the war in Syria — a conflict in which Russia has a huge stake. Instagram and Facebook had 3,000 posts on Syria alone.
“[A]cross all targeted communities,” one report reads, the IRA used “narratives to convey Russian’s state-sanctioned talking points on the Syrian conflict.” Russia even had three channels — which produced 30 videos — about the Syrian civil war and other conflicts in the Middle East.
Instagram Was Targeted The Most
All of the major social media platforms were used as part of the campaign, the reports said. But New Knowledge found that in 2017, as investigators and reporters began unearthing the Russian social media campaign on the two platforms it used most, Facebook and Twitter, “the IRA shifted much of its activity to Instagram.”
The spread of disinformation on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has received less scrutiny than it has other platforms.
“The most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specially targeted Black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets,” the report notes.
New Knowledge found that the IRA ran a sustained effort to undermine trust in American mainstream media, while “extolling the virtues of Wikileaks and Julian Assange.”
On October 4th, 2016, the report notes, there were a small number of posts from IRA pages reinforcing Assange’s “reputation as a freedom fighter.” Those was the group’s first posts about Assange in about a month, according to the analysis. A few days later, on October 7th, Wikileaks released the hacked emails of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.
The emails had been hacked by the GRU, Russian military intelligence, according to an indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year.
New Knowledge notes that, though it has no definitive proof for this, “Given the GRU involvement in the DNC hack with Wikileaks, it is possible that the IRA was tasked with socializing Wikileaks to both Right and Left audiences.”
Russians Favored Trump Over Clinton
The report notes that the IRA was largely focused on supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump, and undermining Clinton’s, including by amplifying support for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein late in the election cycle.
In the days leading up to the general election, New Knowledge notes, the IRA began to “deploy voter suppression tactics on the black community targeted accounts, while simultaneously fear-mongering on Right-targeted accounts about voter fraud and delivering ominous warnings that the election would be stolen and violence might be necessary.”
On the morning of the election, one IRA account, @racist_paul, sent “dozens of tweets harassing a variety of Jewish reporters and other (real) Twitter users with content about how Trump was ‘warming up an oven’ for them.”
The Report Is Critical Of Social Media Companies Role
The report is critical of social media companies’ cooperation with the committee.
After reviewing the data provided by the tech giants to the committee, New Knowledge, concluded that the companies may have provided the “bare minimum” to meet the committee’s requests.
The firm advised lawmakers that there are likely more Russian accounts that the social media companies failed to identify.
A spokesperson for Google said the company did not have a comment on the report but pointed to steps the company has taken to combat disinformation since 2016.
A Twitter spokesperson told CNN the company has made “significant strides” toward preventing the manipulation of its service.
“Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform, and protecting the integrity of elections is an important aspect of that mission,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service, which includes our release of additional data in October related to previously disclosed activities to enable further independent academic research and investigation.”
A spokesperson for Facebook said it didn’t have a comment on the report.
A separate report also commissioned by the committee and using the same data similarly found that the IRA was active on every social media platform and sought to help Trump win. The details of the report by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm, were first reported Sunday by The Washington Post.
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