Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election seems to be more widespread than previously thought. The disinformation campaign included attempts to divide Americans by race and extreme ideology, according to two reports by private experts released on Monday.
The Russian government’s Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, attempted to manipulate US politics, as per one of the reports.
Both reports largely verify earlier findings by US intelligence agencies, but offered much more details about Russian activity that apparently continues till date.
The reports were prepared for the U.S. Senate. They seek to analyse millions of posts provided by Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, and other major technology firms to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, which is led by Senator Richard Burr and Senator Mark Warner.
What have the reports found
The first report—which was prepared by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm—offered new details about how Russians working at the Internet Research Agency segregated Americans into interest groups for targeted messaging.
These efforts shifted over time and peaked during key political moments, such as presidential debates or party conventions, the report found.
“Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting,” the report stated, the Washington Post reported.
The Russians aimed particular energy at activating conservatives on issues such as gun rights and immigration, while sapping the political clout of left-leaning African American voters by weakening their faith in elections and spreading misleading information about how to vote.
The second report—which was prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee by researchers for New Knowledge, Columbia University, and Canfield Research—highlighted the segregation aspect of the Russian disinformation campaign, saying, “The IRA created an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem.”
Both reports offered some of the first detailed analyses of the role played by YouTube, a subsidiary of Google,and Facebook-owned Instagram, in the Russian campaign. Both reports also had anecdotes about how Russians used other social media platforms such as Google+, Tumblr,and Pinterest, as per the Washington Post.
Trump submits answers on Russia
In the ongoing investigation in theRussia probe, President Donald Trump, in November, had submitted answers to written questions posed to him by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Neither the questions from Mueller, nor Trump answers were made public.
Mueller, the former FBI director, has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He is also probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russians in that meddling, and whether the president personally obstructed justice in official inquiries into those questions.
Trump has repeatedly decried Mueller’s probe. Two weeks ago, he forced his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to step down after holding a grudge for Sessions’ decision to excuse himself from any involvement in the investigation of Russian interference in the election.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius