Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency

Searching location on map and pin above blue tone city scape and network connection, internet of things, satellite navigation system conceptNew Knowledge, an organization dedicated to defending public discourse and tracking disinformation operations, has released The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency. This comprehensive report used social medial posts and metadata provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) to quantify and contextualize the extent of the Russian influence campaign conducted by the Internet Research Agency (IRA). The report, accompanied by a slide deck, provides visual networks of the “media ecosystems” created by links and shares, data analysis infographics, and examples of IRA memes.

Some of the key observations noted in the report include:

  • The threat remains; there is evidence of continued interference operations on several platforms.
  • Although Instagram, a photo and video-sharing social networking site owned by Facebook, was a significant platform for the IRA the report notes that it is not often mentioned as a key battleground on social media.
  • Black-American communities seem to have been specifically targeted, with the IRA focused on “developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets.”
  • Voter suppression tactics included [1] malicious misdirection; [2] candidate support redirection; and [3] and voter turnout suppression.
  • Operations included biases for presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, and other prominent figures including Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and Dr. Ben Carson.

The conclusion of the whitepaper notes that while the stakes for disinformation operations has continued to increase, frameworks for addressing the problem have remained static. New Knowledge recommends further research on the extent and impact of repeated exposure to this propaganda, as well as a “multi-stakeholder model in which researchers, tech platforms, and government work together to detect foreign influence operations that attempt to undercut public discourse and democracy.” Collaboration is essential to combating this comprehensive and active threat to American democracy.

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