A pair of reports compiled for the Senate Intelligence Committee shed light on the scope of the multi-year Russian operation to influence Americans on social media. The reports claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) was able to reach hundreds of millions of Americans across multiple platforms, and warn that the operation is still going on.
Investigators estimated that posts affiliated with IRA, a company owned by a close ally of Russian president Vladamir Putin, reached 126 million people on Facebook and 20 million people on Instagram. The group uploaded thousands of videos on YouTube and posted over ten million tweets as part of an effort to "reinforce tribalism, to polarize and divide, and to normalize points of view strategically advantageous to the Russian government."
The report found that Russians had “a nuanced and deep knowledge of American culture, media, and influencers in each community the IRA targeted" and used that to exploit the concerns of specific groups. The IRA specifically targeted African Americans, creating 30 Facebook pages and ten YouTube accounts which highlighted instances of police violence against minorities.
"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," the report explained. "The IRA exploited the trust of their Page audiences to develop human assets, at least some of whom were not aware of the role they played. This tactic was substantially more pronounced on Black-targeted accounts."
The report said that the social media campaigns have been going on since at least 2015 and continue to this day.
"This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion, and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions," Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R) said in a statement. "Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped."
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