- A new report prepared for the Senate highlights the thousands of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube accounts created by the Russian firm Internet Research Agency, which has been charged with interference in the 2016 campaign.
- The report, which will be made public on Monday but was shared online by the Washington Post, found that the IRA had engaged with millions of American voters through millions of tweets and thousands of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube posts.
- The report found that the threat posed by the IRA persists.
The report found that the IRA targeted African-Americans extensively. The IRA efforts “appear to have been focused on developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets.”
One of these accounts, the popular “Blacktivist” Facebook page, gathered 1.4 million reactions from viewers. It was popular among African-American activists and used racial issues – particularly police violence – to stoke outrage among viewers. In some cases, it also encouraged African-American voters to stay home and not vote.
“Being Patriotic” is another Facebook page found to belong to IRA. The page, which shared conservative memes and articles, gathered more than 6,312,000 likes.
While it was active, the page shared memes featuring the faces of many of the 2016 presidential candidates. It also encouraged armed insurrection at times, according to the report.
“STOP A.I.” – A.I. referring to Alien Invaders – was another of IRA’s main Facebook accounts. The profile received 773,305 comments, the most out of all of the agency’s 81 Facebook pages. It posted right-wing conservative articles and memes.
Heart of Texas
“Heart of Texas,” which often posted right-targeted images, received 4.8 million shares from Facebook users. The account often shared anti-Clinton, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant posts while pretending to be a site dedicated to Texans. It even organised anti-Clinton and anti-immigrant rallies across the state.
United Muslims of America
The IRA profile “United Muslims of America” was the only profile that made one pro-Clinton post: an event promoting a Muslim community march to support her campaign. According to the report, “it is likely that the IRA saw a high-profile march by Muslims as a way to create social tension, and as a negative for Sec. Clinton’s candidacy.”
The rest of the content posted on the page, the report found, was critical of Clinton and promoted further-left candidates. At some point, however, it encouraged Muslims to vote for Trump.
Army of Jesus
Army of Jesus, which had both Instagram and Facebook profiles, shared conservative content and even offered free counseling to followers with sexual addiction, a move the report calls a “timeless espionage practice” that leaves individuals vulnerable to be manipulated in the future.
The report states that “Instagram was a significant front in the IRA’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in Congressional testimony.”
IRA handled 133 accounts, reaching approximately 20 million people through an estimated 116,000 posts. The report estimates that the IRA’s posts gathered 187 million engagements on the platform, outperforming Facebook, which the report credits to the use of the platform as an “image-centric, memeic” warfare tool. Instagram’s strength as a misinformation spreader might also be linked to engagement farms.
One of the most popular Instagram accounts manned by the IRA is “blackstagram__” which, like Blacktivist (which also had a strong Instagram presence), shared posts of interest to members of the African-American community. “blackstagram__” would regularly gather 10,000 likes on its posts.
Posts by the “feminism_tag” Instagram account continue being shared on the platform. The IRA profile was disguised as an intersectional feminist account. Although it was a pro-women account, “feminism_tag” stood firmly against Hillary Clinton and shared pro-Bernie Sanders content. According to the report, “the account actively worked to undermine traditional feminist narratives underpinning support for Secretary Clinton.”
Williams and Kalvin
The “Williams and Kalvin Johnson” duo had social media presence on all major platforms-Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube – where they shared memes encouraging African-Americans to vote for Trump – or to not vote at all.
On YouTube, the men called Hillary Clinton “the devil” and said she was going to stand by “the Muslim.” One a Facebook post, the pair called Clinton a traitor and a liar.
“I know that many black people support this old dirty b-h,” the post said. “I don’t know why they do this, still it’s their personal choice and we are a free country yet. But, listen to my word of truth and don’t let them fool you.”
William and Kalvin on YouTube
The IRA uploaded at least 1,100 videos to YouTube, the report found across 17 channels. Nearly all of the content, the report found, was related to Black Lives Matter and police brutality.
Many of these videos were published by “William and Kalvin” as part of their “A Word of Truth” series. According to the report, the videos included voter suppression tactics targeting African-American voters, asking them to stay home or vote for Jill Stein.
The report found that approximately 10.4 million tweets (of which around six million were original) were shared by the IRA across 3,841 twitter accounts. One of the ways the IRA sought to supress voters was through text-to-vote scam tweets that confused voters about the voting process.
And though Twitter has come under fire for automated tweets and bot armies, the report found that the IRA “ran human-operated precision personas that roughly mapped to the same Black, Left, and Right clusters observed on Facebook and Instagram.”
One of these accounts was @TEN_GOP, a profile pretending to be part of the Tennessee GOP. @TEN_GOP helped share false stories about undocumented immigrants voting and falsely claimed that Clinton was “the first candidate in American history to be labelled a threat by American troops.”
Though it only tweeted 12 times, the account dominated in Twitter engagement, according to the report, receiving 9296 RTs and 8800 favourites.
Other Twitter interferences
Other Twitter accounts run by the IRA were found to amplify people close to Trump such as Michael Cohen and Donald Trump Jr. They also retweeted and interacted with conservative “influencers” such as Charlie Kirk and @gatewaypundit.
Many more accounts tweeted racist and anti-Semitic remarks. They also harassed regular Twitter users.
One account, @Chris_Tegner, reportedly ran a voter suppression strategy. The account would “repeatedly @-messaging individual Twitter users, including several famous influencers, to post ‘Heads Up: If you voted for Bernie in the Primaries, the Election Board will NOT let you vote for Hillary on Nov 8.'”
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