This story is over 5 years old.


Senate reports detail how Russia's 2016 disinformation campaign tried to help Trump

"The messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump.”
Getty Images

Russia’s disinformation campaign boosting Donald Trump intensified after he was elected, according to an analysis in one of two reports on 2016 election interference due to be published Monday by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The reports, the first to analyze millions of posts provided by U.S. tech companies, detail how the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency sought to bolster the GOP candidate — and highlight the inadequate response by companies such as Facebook and Google.


An advance copy of the first report was obtained by The Washington Post, while CNN spoke to people involved with the writing of the second report.

Both pieces of analysis look into the breadth of Moscow's social media campaign, and both note the reluctance of companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter to share data with investigators.

The Post saw a draft copy of analysis from researchers at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm. That report said he social media campaign used every platform to deliver content specific to voters to help elect Trump, and noted the “belated and uncoordinated response” to the disinformation campaign by social media companies.

Details of the second report, conducted by online intel firm New Knowledge, are less clear, but it does condemn the tech giants for providing the "bare minimum" amount of data for the probe, according to CNN.

The New Knowledge report also warned "there are likely more Russian accounts that the social media companies failed to identify,” and criticized the firms for not presenting the data in a more accessible format.

While the reports do not reveal any major bombshells, they do show the scope and scale of the disinformation campaign conducted by Moscow.

“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump,” the draft report obtained by the Post says.


“Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign,” the report added. “The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”

The same report claims the campaign was ramped up after Trump entered the White House.

READ: A short history of Trump denying any connection to Russia

The second analysis looked at the extent of the Internet Research Agency’s “media impersonation and diminishment strategy.”

Researchers found 44 Twitter accounts posing as U.S.-related news organizations that had amassed more than 600,000 followers, with many posing as local outlets, according to CNN. they also claim the Kremlin consistently “attempted to erode trust in mainstream media,” while portraying WikiLeaks in a positive light.

The New York Times, who also saw an advanced copy of the New Knowledge report, highlighted the extraordinary effort to target African-Americans using social media accounts designed to imitate groups such as Black Lives Matter.

Russia’s disinformation efforts have mutated since their campaign was exposed last year, and while they was certainly less activity around this year’s midterms, it doesn’t mean the trolls have gone away.

“The Russian operators are trying to cover their traces — for example, using proxy browsers and internet phone numbers more systematically,” Ben Nimmo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told VICE News.

“They’re also trying to confuse people, for example by posting unverified claims about how massive and influential their operation is. This isn’t just trolling, it’s meta-trolling: trolling people about trolling. It looks like the goal is to spread confusion and get people to stop paying attention, but it also shows that their original methods aren’t working so well any more.”

Cover image: Donald Trump visits Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery on December 15, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. (Yuri Gripas-Pool/Getty Images)