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Russian "Active Measures" Social Media Campaign - Excerpts from the Mueller Report

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet at the 2017 G-20 in Hamburg, 7 July 2017 (Sourcehttp://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55006/photos, by Kremlin.ru)


On April 18, a redacted version of the "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election," commonly referred to as the "Mueller Report," was released to the public.  The 448 pages-long document details Russia's propaganda and manipulation tactics through social media,  as well as cooperation between the Trump Campaign and Russian entities for the purpose of damaging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. 


The following excerpts from the Report describe Russia's "active measures" on social media:

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II. Russian "Active Measures" Social Media Campaign


The first form of Russian election influence came principally from the Internet Research Agency, LLC (IRA), a Russian organization funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and companies he controlled, including Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering (collectively "Concord"). The IRA conducted social media operations targeted at large U.S. audiences with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system. These operations constituted "active measures" (активные мероприятия), a term that typically refers to operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs.

The IRA and its employees began operations targeting the United States as early as 2014. Using fictitious U.S. personas, IRA employees operated social media accounts and group pages designed to attract U.S. audiences. These groups and accounts, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists. Over time, these social media accounts became a means to reach large U.S. audiences. IRA employees travelled to the United States in mid-2014 on an intelligence-gathering mission to obtain information and photographs for use in their social media posts.

IRA employees posted derogatory information about a number of candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. By early to mid-2016, IRA operations included supporting the Trump Campaign and disparaging candidate Hillary Clinton. The IRA made various expenditures to carry out those activities including buying political advertisement on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Some IRA employees, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated electronically with individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities, including the staging of political rallies. The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA's internet operation. 

By the end of the 2016 U.S. election, the IRA had the ability to reach millions of U.S. persons through their social media accounts. Multiple IRA-controlled Facebook groups and Instagram accounts had hundreds of thousands of U.S. participants. IRA-controlled Twitter accounts separately had tens of thousands of followers, including multiple U.S. political figures who retweeted IRA-created content. 

In November 2017, a Facebook representative testified that Facebook had identified 470 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts that collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons through its Facebook accounts. In January 2018, Twitter announced that it had identified 3,824 IRA-controlled Twitter accounts and notified approximately 1.4 million people Twitter believed may have been in contact with an IRA-controlled account ...

The IRA's U.S. operations sought to influence public opinion through online media and forums ...



 IRA employees also traveled to the United States on intelligence-gathering missions. In June 2014, four IRA employees applied to the U.S. Department of State to enter the United States, while lying about the purpose of their trip and claiming to be four friends who had met at a party. Ultimately, two IRA employees - Anna Bogacheva and Aleksandra Krylova - received visas and entered the United States on June 4, 2014 ...

2. U.S. Operations Through IRA-Controlled Social Media Accounts


Dozens of IRA employees were responsible for operating accounts and personas on different U.S. social media platforms. The IRA referred to employees assigned to operate the social media accounts as "specialists." Starting as early as 2014, the IRA's U.S. operations included social media specialists focusing on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The IRA later added specialists who operated on Tumblr and Instagram accounts.

Initially, the IRA created social media accounts that pretended to be the personal accounts of U.S. persons. By early 2015, the IRA began to create larger social media groups or public social media pages that claimed (falsely) to be affiliated with U.S. political and grassroots organizations. In certain cases, the IRA created accounts that mimicked real U.S. organizations. For example, one IRA-controlled Twitter account, @TEN_GOP, purported to be connected to the Tennessee Republican Party. More commonly, the IRA created accounts in the names of fictitious U.S. organizations and grassroots groups and used these accounts to pose as anti-immigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter protestors, and other U.S. social and political activists. The IRA closely monitored the activity of its social media accounts ...

By February 2016, internal IRA documents referred to support for the Trump Campaign and opposition to candidate Clinton. For example ... directions to IRA operators ... "Main idea: Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary (Clinton) and the rest (except Sanders and Trump - we support them)" ...  

IRA employees also acknowledged that their work focused on influencing the U.S. presidential election ...

Many IRA operations used Facebook accounts created and operated by its specialists ... groups (with names such as "Being Patriotic," "Stop All Immigrants," "Secured Borders," and "Tea Party News"), purported Black social justice groups ("Black Matters," "Blacktivist," and "Don't Shoot Us"), LGBTQ groups ("LGBT United"), and religious groups ("United Muslims of America").

Throughout 2016, IRA accounts published an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign. For example, on May 31, 2016, the operational account "Matt Skiber" began to privately message dozens of pro-Trump Facebook groups asking them to help plan a "pro-Trump rally near Trump Tower."

To reach larger U.S. audiences, the IRA purchased advertisements from Facebook that promoted the IRA groups on the newsfeeds of U.S. audience members. According to Facebook, the IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements, and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000.

During the U.S. presidential campaign, many IRA-purchased advertisements explicitly supported or opposed a presidential candidate or promoted U.S rallies organized by the IRA ... As early as March 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements that overtly opposed the Clinton Campaign. For example, on March 18, 2016, the IRA purchased an advertisement depicting candidate Clinton and a caption that read in part, "If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as a president - that day would be a real national tragedy." 

Similarly, on April 6, 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements for its account "Black Matters" calling for a "flashmob" of U.S. persons to "take a photo with #HillaryClintonForPrison2016 or #nohillary2016." IRA-purchased advertisements featuring Clinton were, with very few exceptions, negative.

IRA-purchased advertisements referencing candidate Trump largely supported his campaign. The first known IRA advertisement explicitly endorsing the Trump Campaign was purchased on April 19, 2016. The IRA bought an advertisement for its Instagram account "Tea Party News" asking U.S. persons to help them "make a patriotic team of young Trump supporters" by uploading photos with the hashtag "#KIDS4TRUMP." In subsequent months, the IRA purchased dozens of advertisements supporting the Trump Campaign, predominantly through the Facebook groups "Being Patriotic," "Stop All Invaders," and "Secured Borders."

Collectively, the IRA's social media accounts reached tens of millions of U.S. persons, individual IRA social media accounts attracted hundreds of thousands of followers. For example, at the time they were deactivated by Facebook in mid-2017, the IRA's "United Muslims of America" Facebook group had over 300,000 followers, the "Don't Shoot Us" Facebook group had over 250,000 followers, the "Being Patriotic" Facebook group had over 200,000 followers, in total the IRA-controlled accounts made over 80,000 posts before their deactivation in August 2017, and these posts reached at least 29 million U.S. persons and "may have reached an estimated 126 million people" ...

Instagram accounts had hundreds of thousands of U.S. participants. IRA-controlled Twitter accounts separately had tens of thousands of followers, including multiple U.S. political figures who retweeted IRA-created content. In November 2017, a Facebook representative testified that Facebook had identified 470 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts that collectivley made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons through its Facebook accounts. In January 2018, Twitter announced that it had identified 3,814 IRA-controlled Twitter accounts and notified approximately 1.4 million people Twitter believed may have been in contact with an IRA-controlled account.


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