According to two reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Russian interference in U.S. elections was both more far-reaching than originally thought and continues today. On Monday, the Senate released reports showing that Russian troll farms worked to discourage black voters while enflaming political conservatives in an attempt to help elect Donald Trump in 2016. But the disinformation campaign didn’t end there.
The two studies, one from the University of Oxford and social media firm Graphika, called the Computational Propaganda Research Project, and one from the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge show that the social media campaign is ongoing.
#1 – Russians Targeted Different Groups Differently
The report from Oxford shows how Russians targeted their message to different groups. Black voters were consistently told that the best way to advance their cause was to boycott the election altogether and focus on other issues. Meanwhile, right-wing and conservative voters were targeted with anti-immigrant slogans, messages of patriotism, and attempts to stoke outrage regarding liberal appeasement of “others” at U.S. citizen expense. Left-wing voters were not left out – they were targeted with messaging intended to reduce trust in and support of Hillary Clinton, and encouraged to turn to challenger Bernie Sanders instead.
#2 – The Interference is Ongoing
The New Knowledge support shows that some accounts are still active, including those tied to the Internet Research Agency, which was indicted in February by special counsel Robert Muller for their interference with the 2016 election.
According to the report, “With at least some of the Russian government’s goals achieved in the face of little diplomatic or other pushback, it appears likely that the United States will continue to face Russian interference for the foreseeable future.”
“Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped,” said Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC).
#3 – Social Media Companies Downplayed the Issue
In addition, New Knowledge found that not one social media company turned over complete data sets to Congress. Some may have even evaded or misrepresented the interference in testimony, downplaying the issue either intentionally or unintentionally.
#4 – Instagram Was Widely Targeted
Both studies show that Instagram was affected far more than mentioned when Facebook testified to Congress on Capitol Hill. As both Twitter and Facebook came under greater scrutiny in 2017, Russian activity shifted largely to Instagram.
According to the New Knowledge study, there were only 77 million engagements with users on Facebook in 2017, while on Instagram, there were 187 million. Facebook executives failed to mention this in their congressional testimony.
#5 – Social Media Wasn’t the Only Target
In addition to targeting users on social media, Russian accounts attempted to infiltrate browser extensions, music apps, and internet games – including the popular Pokemon Go, encouraging users to use politically divisive usernames. Merchandise with certain political messaging, follower requests, and even job offers were used to target American citizens and potentially recruit assets.
#6 – Organic Posts Worked Better than Ads
In spite of Facebook’s initial focus on ads when the company first announced that it was compromised in 2017, the Oxford study showed that organic posts were far more effective. The IRA’s postings “reveal a nuanced and deep knowledge of American culture, media, and influencers in each community the IRA targeted.”
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.