- Leaked documents reviewed by The Daily Beast show the lengths a notorious Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, went to in order to stoke conflict and spread disinformation during and after the 2016 US election.
- In addition to operating on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the IRA conducted a substantial amount of activity on Reddit and Tumblr.
- The troll farm specifically reached out to unwitting American activists working on causes the Kremlin wanted to brew tensions about, including “migration policy,” “the ruling political oligarch,” “false promises of America,” and “air strike costs.”
The notorious troll farm at the center of Russia’s disinformation campaign during the 2016 US election suffered a massive breach that shed light on the extent of its trolling operation.
The Internet Research Agency was one of three Russian entities that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office charged last month with conspiring to interfere in the election. The indictment laid out a stark and highly-detailed picture of Russia’s scheme to sow discord and elevate then-candidate Donald Trump in the months leading up to the election, while denigrating his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
This week, additional details about the IRA’s efforts spilled out after The Daily Beast reported on internal documents detailing the intricacy of its disinformation campaign and outreach to unwitting Americans during the election — and even afterward. The documents were part of a trove that was advertised a little over a year ago on a website that sells confidential and often sensitive information related to Russia. The seller did not receive any offers for the information, according to The Daily Beast.
The documents reportedly reveal a number of previously unknown details about the IRA’s efforts, including:
- The IRA specifically reached out to unwitting American activists working on causes the Kremlin wanted to stoke tensions about, including “migration policy,” “the ruling political oligarch,” “false promises of America,” and “air strike costs.”
- In addition to operating on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the IRA also had a substantial level of activity on Reddit and Tumblr.
- While trolls were skilled at sowing discord by pushing divisive rallies, spreading junk news, and sharing inflammatory memes, their personal interactions with unwitting Americans were clunky and unsophisticated.
- When one activist, who grew suspicious of his interactions with an individual messaging him from the “Blacktivist” Facebook account, began asking more personal questions, the other person was thrown off.
- The IRA was responsible for pushing two previously unreported rallies in 2016 that took place near Atlanta and New York — one of which turned violent, according to the report.
- The troll farm went to extraordinary lengths to find American activists it believed would be the most useful to its cause. In one instance, while working to stoke tensions at a rally in Stone Mountain, Georgia, the IRA reached out to a woman who was involved in advocating for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
- The woman, Barbara Emerson, did not attend the protest. “I remember thinking that whole Stone Mountain monuments thing … the removal of Confederate images was an example of a distraction of energy and action from real racist issues and policies,” Emerson told The Daily Beast. “Now I’m seeing how that trolling process might have worked.”
Facebook announced last year that “inauthentic” accounts most likely operating out of Russia had purchased $100,000 worth of political ads between 2015 and 2016. The company added that Russian-bought ads reached approximately 10 million people and targeted users in Michigan and Wisconsin, both of which were critical to Trump’s victory.
Meanwhile, Twitter estimated last November that the 36,746 Russia-linked accounts on its platform “generated approximately 1.4 million automated, election-related tweets, which collectively received approximately 288 million impressions” just from September 1 to November 15 last year.
The US intelligence community concluded in January 2017 that the social-media operation was part of a larger influence campaign by Russia — and that assessment, according to former intelligence chief James Clapper, “did serve to cast doubt on the legitimacy” of the election outcome.