Misinformation in the USA: Russian trolls fanned local flames in 2020

The anatomy of a Russian troll | The Fact Checker

Experts say Moscow tried to stir up passions by using the services of American citizens&# 160;

In the tragic events that have taken place over the past 24 hours in Washington, disinformation has played a significant role. Many journalists speak about this, discussing in articles and publications on social networks the motives of those who broke into the Capitol..

One of them, regular VOX and Vice contributor Zeeshan Aleem, tweeted overnight: “Today is a prime example that disinformation is not just a distracting noise or a source of polarization. Disinformation in the hands of the supporters of authoritarianism is a weapon that can change political life. Completely fictional realities can move people – and create new realities “.

Television companies broadcast interviews from the scene with crowd breakers into the main building of the US Congress, who were convinced that their candidate’s election victory had been stolen..

The allegations of electoral fraud came from the mouth of Donald Trump himself, and was amplified by the echoes of these allegations on social media and other Internet platforms. How big was the role of Russia in the disinformation campaign related to the 2020 elections in the United States? Has Moscow influenced the mood of American voters, or was it driven by a local conspiracy??

Emerson Brooking: Employees of the Russian “troll factory” hired Americans “in the dark”

Emerson Brooking, an expert at the Digital Forensic Laboratory (DFRLab) at the Atlantic Council think tank, says that Russian structures were quite active on the Internet: “They were engaged in hidden activities in social networks, manipulating information and disinformation, and we studied this in our laboratory. We also watched several networks run by the famous Internet Research Agency troll factory, and their efforts were visible as the elections approached. “.

Emerson Brooking says that employees of the Russian “troll factory” were looking for people who could express the views close to the Kremlin, while being American:

“The AII staff ran websites focused on US politics and published views of the ultra-right and ultra-left on that policy. They hired American citizens and used them “behind the scenes” to write materials for these sites that carried such views. These authors, originally from the United States, did not know that they were actually working for a Russian organization, because the AI ​​employees used fake personal data and photos generated by artificial intelligence, so it was impossible to determine who they really were. These attempts to influence were significant in terms of the effort expended on them. “.

The expert says that the parallel campaign was organized by the Russian official media: “RT and Sputnik constantly showed that the election results were extremely unclear. They also showed a picture of the riots in the streets, talking about the chaos in the United States, and continuing to insist that the results were dubious even when the results became clear. “.

Emerson Brooking said: “There were attempts of a different nature, about which we know much less, and which were potentially much more dangerous – the actions of Russian intelligence. As we understand it, Russian agents in Ukraine tried to “clean up” misinformation about President-elect Joe Biden with the help of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer. It was clothed in the form of some kind of false “dossier”, and the fact of its existence was pedaled by some members of Congress “.

“It was like the WikiLeaks operation in 2016, which was also carried out by Russian intelligence. But now, instead of using this channel, Moscow used Republicans – members of the US legislature, who considered this information, or rather, disinformation, politically useful, “says an expert from the Atlantic Council..

Donald Trump himself and representatives of his administration, as well as senators and congressmen who support the president have repeatedly argued that the data on Joe Biden’s alleged attempts to influence the leadership of Ukraine seem reliable to them..

But how effective were the efforts of the Russian authorities to spread disinformation in the United States in 2020? Emerson Brooking says they had no discernible impact on the election: “The AI’s actions were more like ‘showing the flag,’ because obviously these sites did not receive any noticeable attention. By creating these sites, the staff of the “Internet Research Agency” seemed to say: “We still have some opportunities, we are here.” But they failed to repeat the success of 2016, as it is now clear ”.

Another thing is conspiracy theories that were born in the United States itself. The expert believes that “local players have already adopted almost all AI techniques and, possibly, made them even more effective.”.

Interestingly, supporters of a certain political spectrum attached, according to Emerson Brooking, more attention to indications of the Russian origin of this or that information than their opponents:

“In late January – early February, we will publish a report analyzing the data that we processed using the Foreign Interference Attribution Tracker we created. Among other things, we looked at which of the cases, which Russia is supposed to be behind, attracted the most media attention, and which media. About 50 percent of all re-posts and clicks on such materials came from the media from the left side of the political spectrum, and only about 10 percent – from the media from the “right”. That is, external interference as a topic was very much discussed from 2018 to 2020 by the left in the United States, while right-wing people or supporters of President Trump did not pay so much attention to this topic, and they were even embarrassed why people were discussing it at all ”.

Michael Weiss: Russian trolls found “useful idiots” in the USA

Michael Weiss, an American journalist and director of investigations at the Free Russia Foundation, is convinced that Russia has not abandoned its attempts to influence political life in the United States:

Misinformation in the US: Russian trolls fanned local flames in 2020

“Various organizations, either directly connected with the Russian state, or masking this connection to a level where it can be denied, continue their attempts to adapt to the changing information ecosystem. They try new methods and experiment, and the work of Prigozhin trolls under the cover of American citizens whom they hired to spread false news is one of such experiments, this is news compared to 2016 “.

According to Michael Weiss, the organization of websites by the AIU staff, on which Americans write, suggests that the ways of Moscow’s influence on American political life are improving:

“Now they realized that it is much more convincing to find ‘useful idiots’ or simply ignorant accomplices for the work that would otherwise have to be done by these trolls themselves. Someone thinks that this method is unsuccessful, because they actually did not achieve anything, but I see it differently: this is another stage in the evolution of their disinformation campaign. They can no longer recruit “agents of influence” personally, and they do it differently – providing jobs and income to those who would like to become a journalist, work on an “alternative site”, need money or do not have publications in order to get a job. decent mainstream publication “.

The American journalist and writer emphasizes that by 2020, in the US political system itself, “conspiracy theories” flourished in a wild color, finding many followers:

“The worst cases of disinformation that was launched into the US political system came from within. If you listen to Donald Trump’s conversation with the secretary of the state of Georgia, it is clear that all his demands and accusations were based on conspiracy theories that roam sites like Reddit, 4chan and the like. And this conspiracy theories are written there mainly by Americans. There, most likely, some Russian players are grazing, I would be surprised if they were not there, but, most likely, they only inflate some already existing “conspiracy theories”.

“I think it is logical to imagine that people working for Putin are advised to try different ways, but without much zeal: after all, if America is so polarized, and judging by social media, it is on the verge of a civil war, then there is no need to interfere too much – we already have a state in the country that is close to rebellion, and the actions of our own, not foreign players, led to it, ”says Michael Weiss.

“Some of them,” the journalist continues, “might have been embarrassed by this fact, and would have been scared for their further career in journalism, but I must honestly say that some figures in the segment of the US political environment, which is rapidly turning from marginalized to part of the mainstream , such things are no longer embarrassing – neither the fact that they perform on platforms like RT or Sputnik, nor the fact that they take Russian money “.

“This is a gift for Moscow: you just find in the West someone from the extreme left or extreme right who hates NATO, or who thinks that the protests in Hong Kong and Euromaidan in Ukraine are the machinations of the CIA. Russia has only a little to help them by collecting donations on Patreon or direct money, ”says Michael Weiss, confident that new ways of Russian influence on American political life should be closely watched..

Misinformation in the USA: Russian trolls fanned local flames in 2020

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