Two reports prepared for the U.S. Senate have found that Russia used every major social media platform to influence and target American voters during and after the 2016 presidential election. The Washington Post first obtained the draft for report one before it’s official release on Monday.
Report one was prepared by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm. It outlines how social media posts were used to spread disinformation among the masses after analyzing millions of accounts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Medium, Google+, YouTube, Yahoo, Microsoft’s Hotmail and Google’s Gmail.
The Kremlin’s chief aim was to help President Trump get elected by sowing discord in America based on race, politics and geography via segmented messaging.
Report two prepared by New Knowledge, counted 263,769,228 engagements — including likes, comments and shares — on Facebook and Instagram. They said the total number of people who viewed the Russian-backed content is likely higher than the 126 million Facebook said were exposed.
This was achieved by the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, which has formally been charged with criminal offenses for interfering in the 2016 campaign by U.S. officials.
In particular, the reports also found Russia primarily used Facebook to target and heighten racial resentment. Thirty Facebook pages were set up specifically targeting African-Americans, with 571 YouTube videos related to police violence against blacks.
According to both reports, “Black Matters US” had accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google+, Tumblr and PayPal. One of the motives for targeting black Americans was to incite real-world violence by focusing on police brutality, while also heightening distrust among left-leaning groups.
The most successful Instagram posts targeted African-American cultural issues. 133 accounts on Instagram were found to focus mainly on race, ethnicity or other forms of personal identity. Google ads were used to promote the “BlackMatters US” website with provocative messages such as, “Cops kill black kids. Are you sure that your son won’t be the next?”
The reports criticize social media giants for failure to stop manipulation by foreign powers. By withholding relevant data, or submitting incomplete data-sets to researchers, these companies may be complicit in misleading lawmakers about the extent of the Russian disinformation campaign.
“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically, Donald Trump,” the Oxford report said.
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