New information, some from former Russian spies in America who are now cooperating with us, reveals an increasing and pervasive use of social media by Russian members of an elite intelligence unit in Russia, to influence broad groups of U.S. citizens in significant ways. It is considered a new and insidious kind of warfare. US intelligence agencies and social media companies are struggling to find ways to prevent Russians operatives from making phony accounts to spread their messages as well as circulate misinformation without removing the freedom U.S citizen’s treasure. Many relate freedom to the core of the U.S., making this the ideal form of attack. Russia is well aware of the limitations the U.S. has when it comes to big social media companies, and they plan to use that in their favor.
A report (pdf) released late in 2018 by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Research Project is the most detailed analysis yet of the scope and effect of Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) social media campaign and its impact on America’s elections.The analysis found that the main goal of the interference was to polarize the American public, in three main ways: by feeding political extremism (particularly for the far right), by spreading incendiary fake news, and by exploiting and exacerbating existing divisions—in particular those of a racial nature.The IRA’s social media activities campaigned “for African American voters to boycott elections or follow the wrong voting procedures in 2016, and more recently for Mexican American and Hispanic voters to distrust US institutions,” the report found.
African Americans were the majority of users targeted by the IRA (other minorities were engaged significantly only after the election). Of a total of 2,855 ads purchased by the IRA, nearly 1,000—which reached over 13 million users—were about African-American politics or culture. Those messages were much cheaper than ones on other topics, averaging 905 rubles, or $14, per ad, compared with nearly 6,200 rubles, or $93, for ads about conservative politics. Accounts opened in connection with the website Black Matters (they are now deactivated) helped spread the messages, which misled readers about the voter registration process, encouraged them to boycott the election, and attempted to sow mistrust in established democratic procedures.