The scope of the Russian Disinformation campaign is bigger than you think (THREAD).

It is insanely CLEVER and diabolical.

In 2016 the Russia influenced the election in 3 ways:
1) Attempted to hack the online voting systems
2) Cyber-attack on DNC
3) Systematic social media disinformation campaign targeted at US citizens to exert political influence and exacerbate social divisions in US culture.

For number 1 they may have succeeded and in 2/3 they certainly succeeded. For the purpose of this thread i will be detailing with the 3rd point.

Systematic social media disinformation campaign

There were a number of groups focused on disinformation but for the sake of this thread i will be talking about the Internet Research Agency (IRA). A Russian company who worked on behalf of Russian business and political interests.

Initially the IRA focused on Ukrainian & Russian citizens. A common theme you will see is Russia trialling things on Ukraine before adapting them to the USA.
- Foreign interference
- Wars
- Elections
- Disinfo
- Etc

See @olgaNYC1211's work on for more details on this

The IRA had more than 1 000 employees working in a single building ("Troll farm) influencing every facet of American social media including: Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, YouTube, Instagram etc.

Yes that IMG below says 10.4 MILLION TWEET.

In which they focused on themes (see pic below)
- Do you see a common reoccurring theme here with the 2020 election?

The theme selected by the IRA was deployed to create and reinforce tribalism within each targeted community. E.g for Trump and Christians. They would utilise memes associating Trump and MAGA w/ Christianity & Hilary w/ the devil.

See any allusions to Qanon's rhetoric here?

It went further than this - the IRA would co-opt/infiltrate movements and create websites to fit their agenda. Here is a list of website they had where they could put their spin/bias and propaganda on to influence opinion.

It wasn't limited to website domains but also w/ YouTube channels focused on being:
- Anti-Hilary
- Voter suppression
- Advocating black voters stay home or vote for a 3rd party
- Infiltrating/co-opting police brutality narratives

(See any connections w/ 2020 election?)

On twitter they had 3841 persona accounts. Their activity took four forms:
- Repurposed accounts
- Newsbots accounts:
- Right-leaning accounts
- Left leaning accounts

On Facebook they leveraged: Ads, pages, Events, messenger and stickers.
- There was 76.5 million engagements across 3.3 million page followers
- This included 30.4 million shares, 37.6 million likes, 3.3 million comments and 5.2 million reactions.

The themes utilized in 2016 differ in some ways to what ever the perceived threat of the time is: e.g it was heavily anti-Muslim back in 2016.


BUT the main themes still remain now for 2020
- Creating civil division
- Voter suppression
- Racism
- Religion
- Guns
- Southern culture (confederate history)
- etc

(pic below from 2016 against Hilary - Compare to 2020)

When it comes to Facebook + twitter the IRA understood deep knowledge of American Culture, media and influencers in each community. They also knew MEMEs were a very effective and easy way to influence affect, cognition & behaviour. The IRA was fluent in American trolling culture
In fact they leaned on AMERICAN MEME makers like Turning Point USA which is still operational now. Twitter user Ben Johnson (Creative officer of TPUSA) has a blue tick & still has influence over atleast 320k Twitter users. (This is another thread in itself) https://twitter.com/bennyjohnson/status/1293650790561832963?s=20
When it comes to Instagram it was one of the most effective platform for the IRA due to its cross-branding with FB. 40% of their accounts had over 10 000 followers & 12 accounts had over 100 000 followers. A faux black instagram acc - blackstagram_ even had >300k followers.

On Instagram they utilized merchandise - which appeared to be the goal of partnership building for audience growth - particularly the Black community-targeted accounts. They used hashtags like #buyblack. They would offer coupons in exchange for sharing content.

These "merch" sites + products would also offer contentious political messaging likely to spark controversy in the real world. It would also
1) allow a source of revenue
2) allow gathering of personal info
3) time spent on partisan sites helped identify audiences for FB ads

The main goal of the disinformation campaign wasn't just to spurt out as much FB ads as possible but organic growth based on quick easily digestible content/photos/memes/clips.

It worked. FB estimated that content was seen by 126 million FB users & 20 million insta users

They had a variety of tactics which varied in sophistication and volume and together manifest in a complex effort including:
- Targeting Americans
- Asset development
- Cross-platform brand building
_ Media mirage
- Memetics

Tactic: Targeting Americans

73 different IRA affiliated pages and Insta accounts published 3519 ads (videos +images). These ads were used to drive users to like pages, follow Insta accs, join events and join websites.

The ads were run on both Right/Left leaning pages & black w/ reinforced themes/messages to a select audience.

Geographical targeting had 2 strats:
1) Target communities for local events & rallies
2) Target them with race & cop-brutality content timed following cop shootings
They utilized FB data like interests/gender/age to target specific groups

Women interested in "Black Enterprise" were targeted but not men in the same category

Men >17 were targeted w/ "gun rights"

Men >45 were targeted w/ "pro-police" pages in support of law enforcement

They would use insta/FB accounts that promoted Black Matters content with the goal to increase perception of legitimacy and popularity.

The ads would direct users to outside sites OWNED by the IRA e.g http://blackmatters.us  & http://musicfb.info 

A simple ad for "Back the Badge" had the highest spent and obtained the most clicks - they spent 110 558 Russian rubles (~1500 USD) to achieve over 1.3 million impressions and 73 000 clicks, 155 000 shares and 500 000 social engagements.

The IRA would use AdWords accounts to promote blogs and new-type sites that were in line with Kremlin Agenda. These text ads would feature headlines about things like President Obama's bad performance and medias purported hiding of it.

Russia Today did the same thing

Tactic: Asset Development

The IRA ran a human asset recruitment strategy which encouraged Americans to perform various types of tasks for IRA handlers. It was expansive and a PRIORITY for the IRA.

(See pic attached)

They recruited an asset by exploiting a personal vulnerability - usually a secret that would inspire shame/cause personal/financial harm if exposed - a timeless espionage practice.

They infiltrated protest movement & created hotlines to manipulate/blackmail in the future.

Tactic: Cross-Platform Brand Building

The IRA operated like a digital marketing agency - it built it's presence on all channels of the entire social ecosystem and grow an audience with paid ads, partnerships, influencers and link-sharing.

They created media mirages interlinked info ecosystems to immerse & surround targeted audiences. The marketing utilized best practices & involved evolving their FB logos/typography over time.

Black matters consisted of a website & extensive network of linked social profiles
The IRA launched Black Matters (Initially called BM) on June 8th 2015. It wasn't limited to FB but extended to all facets of social media (see pic)

On Feb 4th 2016 - BM announced the launch of the website http://blackmattersus.com  which emphasised media distrust and a desire to build Black independent media. (all which were owned by the IRA)

On August 19th 2016 the BM FB pg ceased posting & rebranded/named itself changing the URL http://fb.com/blackmatters.mvmt w/ a new logo

It continued posting under this name til June 28th 2017 when it ceased posting for 2 months before switching BACK to just the Black Matters name
Black matters content focused on building a community and sowing division in real life AND as well as online.

Many posts solicited protesters, writers, activists, photographers etc to attend the properties numerous events with the goal of:

Narrative laundering.

The goal of working w/ real Americans was to eliminate detection and exposure of inauthentic personas.

The numerous BM posts pushed for 1:1 engagement w/ people who followed its accounts looking for everything from designers to immigration lawyers.

On Nov 17th 2016 they even posted about the creation of a reality show looking for contestants.

"All that is required of you is that you send us a video depicting the problems facing our people"

The goal: to get real content to manipulate & alter for future propaganda.

Tactic: Media Mirage

The case of Black matters illustrates the extent the IRA built out of ONE inauthentic media property. BM was only 1 of at least 30 FB pages which targeted the Black community.

Those who liked BM would be exposed to content from dozens of other IRA pgs

The goal of of these media mirages was twofold:
1) Grow audiences
2) Integrate the pages with authentic pages. This helped increase the perception of their accounts as trusted brands.

On Insta, FB and twitter these media mirages would deploy hashtags prolifically beginning with " #followback" appeals when the account was first created.

They used dozens of hashtags to improve discoverability and facilitate audience growth.

They would use hashtags to bridge groups

For example they would use:

- #Jesus esus to link black communities with right-leaning Army of Jesus


- #Love to bridge Army of Jesus and left-leaning accounts.

Tactic: Memetics

The IRA relied extensively on memes - for the transmission of information & propaganda across the social ecosystem.

The IRA knows memes turn big ideas into emotionally-resonant snippets
- Big text, not much text - able to be digested w/ not much effort.

Memes are propaganda of the modern age.

E.g it takes me hours to research, write, edit & produce a YouTube video that may be viewed by a few 1000 people but it would take seconds to create a viral meme.

Memes are efficient & easily reshared for maximum propaganda effect.

Memes are powerful because they can be re-contextualised, reshared and act as an "in-group" cultural signifiers.

The IRA made >100 000+ pieces of visual content. But as already mentioned they also repurposed right leaning memes too.

The IRA recycled hundreds of thousands of memes. Reusing top performers & thematically relevant content.

This Jesus image was the most liked Instagram post created by the IRA prior to the 2016 election by the Army of Jesus which garnered 87 000+ likes and 1989 comments.

Tactic: Inflecting a common message for a different audience. (Syria)
- The IRA would use Russian talking points in their memes to sway American opinion that was beneficial for the Russian agenda.
- They would tailor their message to those on the Right, Left or Blacks

Tactic: Narrative Repetition and Dispersal

The repurposing of the same story across different accounts in the media mirage was a deliberate tactic.

It reinforced key themes & created the perception that certain messages or opinions were wide spread and worthy of attention

This example (pic below) shows how the IRA co-opted a real story about an inspirational young Black American and repurposed the story over FB- putting a slightly different tone on the content to fit in with their brand/narrative to foster division among Americans.

Tactic: Repurposing and Re-Titling Pages and Brands

The IRA used previous accounts to pivot and focus on completely new topics.

On Facebook the Army_of_Jesus page was originally created as first Kermit the Frog, and then the Simpsons meme account.

Another account:
@_anonymous_news_ Instagram

Between 2015-2017 was repurposed from - local news about Jackson Mississippi to a Black Guns Matter account until July 13 2017 when it rebranded with a Guy-Fawkes mask branded content with hashtags like #hactivist & #sheeple

Tactic: Manipulating Journalism

There were approx 109 Twitter accounts masquerading as news organisations. The 44 US focused Twitter accounts amassed >660 000 followers.

These accs were automated specifically focused on local news as Americans trust local news more (PEW)

The IRA also sought to undermine trust in real media across Black, Left and Right-targeted accounts.

Using two tactics:
1) Advocate for the creation of a niche community media which was in opposition to MSM
2) Actively undermine trust in journalism

They also reinforced the idea that Julian Assange was a "whistleblower" or freedom fighter a few days before the major DNC email dump. (which Russia had initially obtained by hacking)

The IRA most likely was tasked with socialising Wikileaks to both Right & Left audiences.

Tactic: Amplify Conspiratorial Narratives

The IRA amplified conspiracy theories on TWITTER e.g"Globalist" agenda, QAnon, Pizzagate and anti-vaccinations.

These were then advanced and repeated by right-wing personas.

QL: we're feeling the full force of this right now

For Black-targeted groups they would use distinct historical conspiracies - ones intended to reinforce cultural identify as well as create discord.

Tactic: Sow Literal Division

The IRA promoted secessionists & insurrectionist movements w/ accounts like "@ rebeltexas" using the hashtag #Texit

They EVEN created real-world pro-secession demonstrations across the state by using FB events using the FB page Heart of Texas.

The hashtag #Calexit (after California gave Clinton 61.5% of the vote & only 33.2% to Trump) was used by IRA accounts:
- It was presented as Liberals trying to leave after the election (which fed into the division rhetoric)

Oddly, the #Calexit hashtag was virtually nonexistent on FB but it did consist of 2 posts both by an IRA account w/ one post tying controversial recent news (an anti-Milo Yiannopolous protest), the Liberals were whiny and pro-chaos rhetoric.

See similarities then compared to now with the use of:
- Buzzwords
- Faux outrage
- Conspiracy theories
- Anti-democratic state rhetoric
- Pushing a counter-productive US agenda.
- "Anti-fa" rhetoric

I have highlighted examples of these in the picture below.

QL: Be very cognizant of posts which include all the things I mentioned during that example above.

People who post it are either:
1) Disinformation agents
2) MAGAs repeating talking points they've been conditioned to believe is true.

The IRA worked w/ disinfo at a local, state & national level to promote:

- Local: riots & rallies
- State: secession ( #calexit) & amplified regional cultural differences
- National: armed insurgency through exhortations of violence over issues e.g BLM & confederate statues
Tactic: Dismiss & Redirect

Soon after the 2016 election, investigative journalists began to identify the IRA's social influence & the GRU's hacking operations. As articles emerged about election interference - indicating it was Russia - the IRA didn't shy away or ignore it

Instead the IRA used derision & disparagement in content targeting Right leaning pages to create & amplify the narrative that the whole investigation was nonsense.
- That Comey/Mueller were corrupt
- That the RUS stories was a "conspiracy theory" pushed by liberal crybabies

As facets of the investigations trickled out over 2017 - the Right-targeted accounts:
- Justified
- Dismissed
- Normalized &
- Redirected

QL: Notice right wing account using these strategies when it comes to any Trump scandal?

Here's an example of it:

- Justify + Dismiss + Normalize: "Replied to an email and pointless meeting

- Redirect: "Chelsea stole donations for Haiti to pay for her wedding"

See picture below for a written example of justifying, dismissing, normalizing and redirecting when it comes to Donald Trump Jr meeting with the Russians in Trump tower for dirt on Hilary Clinton.

Remember: "I love it" - Donald Trump Jr

Quantitative stats:
- The scope of the disinformation campaign was more than just about "Trump" & "Clinton"
- But of those which referenced them. Trump was mentioned twice as much as Clinton
- When Clinton was mentioned they used insulting names like: "Shillary" & "Hitlery"
Every single one of the 1777 posts by the IRA on FB that mentioned Clinton was negative.

109 posts were devoted to creating & amplifying fears of voter fraud. Overwhelmingly targeting right-wing audiences.

Of the 109, 71 were created a month leading up to election day

Within the 109 posts devoted to creating and amplifying fears of voter fraud they made claims that:
- States were helping Clinton win
- Civil war was preferable to a Clinton win
- "Illegals" were overepresented & voting multiple times with the assistance of Democrats.

The SSCI report speculates that this narrative suggests that they may have not expected Trump to win; regardless they intended to INCITE violence if he did not.

There was one post alluding to voter fraud targeting a left-wing audience on the IRA account @cop_block_us that put forward a conspiracy theory that someone with evidence that the democratic party primary had been rigged in Hilary's favor had been found dead.

Weekly Post Volume Through Election 2016:
- FB & Instagram increased
- Twitter dropped off

(SCCI report speculates that Twitter may have dropped off because journalists were writing about the presence of Russian Twitter Bots and/or Twitter deleted some of the IRA accounts)

Qualitative data:

From July 2015 onward the Right-targeted pages aligned to display a clear and preference for then-candidate Donald Trump.

They actively disparaged Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush on.

Kremlin-aligned narratives appeared expressing the conviction that Trump was going to have a very sensible Russia policy.

There was a similarly strong & consistent effort to undermine Clinton's presidential bid throughout all of their pages - Black, Left & Right-targeting.

Leading up to the election the IRA began to deploy voter suppression tactics on Black-targeted accounts while simultaneously fear-mongering the Right-targeted accounts about voter fraud & delivering a warning that the election would be stolen & violence might be necessary.

The suppression narratives were targeted excursively to the Black community and were a concerted effort to keep the conversation on other topics such as alienation and violence and away from politics.

Or to vote for Third parties.

(See now w/ GOP op w/ Kanye)

Election week at the IRA - Analysis of 5-9th of November 2016
- The IRA made approximately 32 000 posts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
- There was distinct ways in which they attempted to manipulate Black, Left-leaning and Right-leaning groups over this period

The Right-Leaning strategy was to:
- Generate extreme anger & suspicion in the hopes that it would motivate them to vote.

It focused on:
- Conspiracy theories
- Voter fraud
- illegal participation in the election
- The need for rebellion should Clinton "steal" the election

The Black-targeted strategy was to:
- Continue to steer their attention to ignoring the election focusing on themes like alienation & police brutality.

As the election was imminent:
- Voter suppression: "Don't vote, stay home, these people don't care about Black people"

The Left-targeted strategy was:
- Somewhat political, with an anti-establishment slant
- It focused primarily on identity and pride for communities e.g Native Americans, LGBT+ etc
- Then called for voting for candidates OTHER than Clinton.

The main goal the 2016 election week was to:
- Generate extreme anger and engagement for those who were most likely to support-then-candidate Donald Trump
- Create disillusionment and disengagement on the Left-leaning and Black communities.

Post 2016 Election and 2017 activity
- The Right-targeting narratives about how voter fraud would deliver the election to Clinton IMMEDIATELY shifted to narratives that Trump would have won the popular vote too, were it not for voter fraud.

Post 2016 Election and 2017 activity
- The Left-targeted narratives immediately called for protests of the Electoral college.
- There were attempts to pre-empt calls for impeachment (even before he was inaugurated) by framing Vice President Pence as an even worse option.

A faux-LGBT IRA account called "LGBT United" wrote a post indicating if Trump was to be impeached then having Mike Pence would be the worst possible situation (see pic attached)

As investigative journalists began to uncover the op by Russia- the IRA narrative began to actively mock the idea that Russians had interfered in the election.

Initially they focused on Comey after Trump fired him.

Then they targeted Mueller during Mueller's investigation.
Ongoing Effort: Live Accounts Remain

The SSCI report mentions to monitor these bot accounts to see what they do.

@Elsa_Aben - dormant now active
@besttattooing - active
@becca51178 - active

The others have been suspended/deleted.

Ongoing Effort: The Broader Propaganda Ecosystem
- There are dozen of Russia-linked propaganda pages promoted by IRA-linked ad accounts.
- Some of these sites have USA-affiliated authors such as Joaquin Flores
- It is unclear if they knew they were writing for an IRA entity

Even so several individuals on the masthead were identified on the IRA propaganda property USAReally (see link below for one author)

Also a few contribute to known Russian propaganda outlets and think tanks such as Katehon

(87) https://usareally.com/tags/alexanderazadgan
SSCI report conclusion (1):
- The IRA exploited divisions in US society leveraging vulnerabilities in the US information ecosystem
- They exploited social unrest and human cognitive biases
- It intended to reinforce tribalism, polarize and divide.

SSCI report conclusion (2):
- To normalize points of view that were strategically advantageous to the Russian government on everything from social issues to political candidates.
- It was designed to exploit societal fractures, blur the lines between reality and fiction.

SSCI report conclusion (3):
- To erode trust in media entities and the information environment in government, in each other and democracy itself.
- The campaign pursued all of these objectives with innovative skill, scope and precision.

SSCI report conclusion (4):
- The Russian goals have been achieved in the face of little diplomatic or push back & it appears likely that the US will continue to face Russian interference for the foreseeable future.

QL: Can def see that this is the case under Trump/GOP

SSCI report conclusion (5):
- The report says that we should certainly expect to see recruitment, manipulation and influence attempts targeting the 2020 election.

QL: The SSCI was warned of all of this in 2018 & look where we are now because of GOP/Trump complicity.

SSCI report conclusion (6):
- Disinfo has evolved from a nuisance to a high-stakes information war.
- The IRA games SM systems by utilizing outrage over "censorship" & "freedom of speech" to elicit reinstatement/public support.

"censorship is political correctness"

Looking Forward
- They hope that additional sections of this data set will released to the public for further research & that additional eyes will provide valuable insights into this op.

QL: Thankfully the report was made public. We collectively are the additional eyes.🙌

If you found this thread helpful please share it around.

I have <2000 followers. My reach is much less than what is needed heading into the election.

IT IS CRUCIAL that all American's understand what is happening right now.

For more insights see:

(95) https://twitter.com/Real_QL/status/1291664016062832640?s=20
For more detailed information on any specific parts of this thread see the report given to the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency

For download below:

/End thread

(96) https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/2/ 
You can follow @Real_QL.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.

Latest Threads Unrolled: