You don’t need to read the federal indictments to spot the moment Russia began targeting the United States with its army of internet trolls.
Just chart the American flag emoji. Best estimates trace the founding of the Internet Research Agency to August 2013, and for eight months of its existence the Saint Petersburg troll farm was focused on influencing citizens in Russia and Russia’s near abroad. Then in April 2014 the Kremlin-linked organization launched “Project Lakhta,” according to federal prosecutors, aimed squarely at the United States.
The IRA’s first American flag emoji appeared on Twitter the next month, first a trickle, and then a torrent. Over the next four years the Saint Petersburg troll farm unfurled 70,372 American flags, reaching peak flagness on August 12, 2017 when one IRA sockpuppet crammed 43 flags into a single tweet with the hashtag “MAGA.”
Whether by luck or design, the IRA’s campaign against America worked, and is still working. An examination of Twitter’s new dump of Russian troll data this month shows that the IRA’s tactics worked far better in the U.S. than in Russia or the Eastern European nations where the troll farm cut its teeth. English-language tweets by the IRA’s sockpuppet accounts enjoyed nine times the engagement than tweets in Russian and other languages. And, remarkably, Americans fell for the Russian interference even harder after the 2016 presidential election than before. [Continue reading…]