By Debbie Gregory.
British researchers say they have evidence that Russia targeted U.S. military veterans and active-duty troops via social-media, especially Twitter, to spread anti-government propaganda in the spring before the presidential election.
The study by Oxford University traced the reach of three websites, Veteranstoday.com, Veteransnewsnow.com, and Southfront.org, known to have shown ads and posts linked to the Russian government.
The content led to “significant and persistent interactions” on Twitter over a one-month period, with a theme of news to undermine faith in U.S. democracy.
According to Philip Howard, a professor of internet studies who led the research, the study uncovered an entire ecosystem of junk news about national security issues that is deliberately crafted for U.S. veterans and active military personnel.
“It’s a complex blend of content with a Russian view of the world — wild rumors and conspiracies,” Howard said.
The Oxford study categorized 12,413 Twitter users and 11,103 Facebook users who had messages that referenced or carried content from one or more of the Russian-linked websites from April 2 to May 2, 2017.
On both Twitter and Facebook, Russian fingerprints are on thousands of fake accounts that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages. Many were automated accounts, called bots, that sometimes fired off identical messages seconds apart, and in the exact alphabetical order of their made-up names
News from the study’s findings comes after Facebook revealed that Moscow purchased online ads that specifically targeted presidential swing states such as Michigan and Wisconsin. Specific demographic groups were also targeted in an attempt to influence the presidential election.
Both the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating the extent and the success in which Russia disseminated false news or further fanned inflammatory reports.
Given the powerful role of social media in political contests, understanding what Russian did will be crucial in preventing similar attacks in the 2018 congressional races and the 2020 presidential election.