Russian trolls were equal opportunity in their efforts in 2016, continuing through today, with no signs of slowing down.
Russia continues to attack the US and the West, without consequence, without reprisal, without a cost to Russia.
Clemson University researchers analyzed 3 million tweets sent by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, categorizing the accounts by left and right-wing trolling, fearmongering, and more.
The 12 Russians indicted earlier this year over meddling in the 2016 US presidential election had day jobs at the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a St. Petersburg-based company and Russia’s most infamous troll factory.
Two Clemson University researchers, Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren, used social media tracking software to collect 2,973,371 tweets from 2,848 Twitter handles traced back to the IRA. The result, published and analyzed by data-driven journalism outlet FiveThirtyEight, is the most comprehensive view we’ve seen to date of Russian trolls’ social media activity.
The researchers’ breakdown identified some interesting trends by sorting the troll accounts into different categories based on their tweets. While the most popular category was simply non-English tweets at 28.2 percent, right behind it were right-wing troll accounts, which made up 24.2 percent of the almost 3 million tweets analyzed.
Overall, Linvill and Warren broke down the troll tweets into five primary categories:Right Troll, Left Troll, News Feed, Hashtag Gamer, and Fearmonger. Linvill said Right Trolls, accounting for 617 handles and 663,740 tweets, act like “bread-and-butter MAGA Americans, only all they do is talk about politics all day long” pushing out tweets with anti-immigration rhetoric, for example.
Left Trolls accounted for 14 percent of the data with 230 handles and 405,549 tweets. These accounts were more apt to use hashtags such as #MuslimBan or #BlackLivesMatter, tweeting about topics such as gender, religious, and sexual identity in a manner that researchers surmise was meant to divide the Democratic party.
The other three categories had decidedly different aims. “News Feed” trolls were the third largest category at 20.2 percent (54 handles and 567,846 tweets); according to the researchers, their aim was to serve as local news aggregators with handles such as @OnlineMemphis and @TodayPittsburgh, linking to legitimate news sources but sometimes tweeting with a pro-Russia slant.
Hashtag Gamer trolls had nothing to do with video games. Coming in at a smaller percentage of tweets at 8.1 percent (110 handles and 216,895 tweets), the category refers to the hashtag games played often on Twitter. For example, the researchers said accounts often played innocuous games like #ThingsILearnedFromCartoons, interspersed with more political hashtags such as #OffendEveryoneIn4Words and #ItsSoWhiteOutside.
Linvill and Warren didn’t focus as heavily on the commercial category (business marketing tweets) and another small percentage of the data went uncategorized. Finally, there’s the Fearmongering category at a minuscule 0.4 percent (122 handles and 10,161 tweets), which spread news of fake crises, like claiming salmonella-contaminated turkeys produced by Koch Foods were being sold at Walmart during the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday.
Russian election meddling is showing no signs of slowing down, either. Microsoft has already stymied several hacking attempts on 2018 midterm election candidates, and Trump administration officials on Thursday issued a stern warningabout Russia’s plan for the 2018 midterm elections.
Check out the full data set for yourself on GitHub.