For years, Russia has leveraged social media to wage a propaganda war with operations that initially targeted their own citizens and sphere of influence. In 2014, they broadened those operations to include the United States and ran a multi-year campaign to manipulate and influence Americans, exploiting social and political divisions. The scale was massive — reaching 126 million people on Facebook, posting 10.4 million tweets on Twitter, uploading 1,000+ videos to YouTube, and reaching over 20 million users on Instagram.
Information about the Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) activities has trickled out over the past three years, as researchers and journalists have combed the web, uncovering accounts and discovering memes. Finally, in late 2017, ahead of a series of Congressional hearings, Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet each turned over a data set containing text, images, videos, and other content that they attributed to the IRA. The analysis that follows is our independent investigation of this data set as provided to the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Our report focuses on the IRA’s tactics and messages, and includes statistics, infographics, and thematic presentation of memes from organic Facebook Page and Instagram account posts. There is some overlap between the two parts, but each is intended to be a standalone document addressing different facets of the operation across the full scope of the millions of pieces of content in the data set. We recognize that there is a perhaps daunting amount of material in the report; the Table of Contents will help to zero in on the issues, tactics, or topics that are of greatest interest.
With the benefit of the full data set, our report delivers in-depth analysis of the US 2016 Election interference effort of the expansive IRA operation. We discuss Presidential candidate support and opposition, primary activities, Wikileaks data dump messaging, and the cross-platform strategies and narratives leading to Election Day. We address the prevalence of three distinct forms of voter suppression, and include context of how IRA narratives shifted immediately following the election result.
Targeted Manipulation of Black Americans
Some of the most sophisticated IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted Black American communities. Although they produced content targeting many political and cultural groups, the IRA created a uniquely expansive, interlinked fraudulent Black media ecosystem consisting of their own sites interwoven with authentic Black media and Black-owned small businesses to a degree not seen with other communities or groups. These efforts exploited organic American protest movements and focused on widespread, pre-existing societal issues.
There are many more facets contained in our report. We analyze the Internet Research Agency’s posts, videos, tweets, and memetic content on topics including:
- Trust in media
- Black culture, community, and pride
- Texas culture, community, and pride
- Southern culture, community, and pride
- Muslim culture, community, and pride
- Christian culture, community, and pride
- LGBT culture, community, and pride
- Native American culture, community and pride
- Latino culture, community, and pride
- Blue Lives Matter, pro-law enforcement content
- Anti-refugee, pro-immigration reform content
- Separatist movements and secession
- Meme and “red pill” culture
- Patriotism and Tea Party culture
- Liberal and feminist culture
- Veteran’s Issues
- Gun rights, 2nd Amendment advocacy
- American politicians and attempts to exploit intra-party discord
- Syria and ISIS
We hope our work results in a clearer picture of the Internet Research Agency’s targeting of the American people from 2015-2017, and that it helps inform policymakers, platforms, and the public alike. We thank the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for the opportunity to serve.
To learn more on this topic, watch our webinar where experts from Walmart, W2O Group, the U.S. Department of State, and Yonder on how brands today can prevent damage to their reputation and protect consumers when false or inaccurate information spreads and takes hold online.