What we now know about Russian disinformation

Renée DiResta writes:

The Russian disinformation operations that affected the 2016 United States presidential election are by no means over. Indeed, as two new reports produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee make clear, Russian interference through social media — contrary to the suggestion of many prominent tech executives — is a chronic, widespread and identifiable condition that we must now aggressively manage.

The Senate committee asked two research teams, one of which I led, to investigate the full scope of the recent multiyear Russian operation to influence American opinion executed by a company called the Internet Research Agency. The Senate provided us with data attributed to the agency’s operations given to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet (Google’s parent company), companies whose platforms were manipulated for that purpose.

Our report, announced by the committee on Monday, concludes that Russia was able to masquerade successfully as a collection of American media entities, managing fake personas and developing communities of hundreds of thousands, building influence over a period of years and using it to manipulate and exploit existing political and societal divisions. While Russia is hardly the only geopolitical actor with a well-thumbed disinformation playbook, a look at the data — which concerned the Internet Research Agency’s operation over the last three years — reveals its enthusiasm for and commitment to modern information warfare.

Regardless of what any tech executives may have said, the data indicate that this was not a small-scale problem fixable by tweaking a platform’s advertising purchase policy. Rather, it was a cross-platform attack that made use of numerous features on each social network and that spanned the entire social ecosystem. [Continue reading…]

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