A new report, “The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018“, prepared for the US Senate Intelligence Committee claims that “Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) launched an extended attack on the United States by using computational propaganda to misinform and polarize US voters”.
The document, allegedly based on the study of the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee, claims that the Russian side used its media capabilities to help elect President Donald Trump and later to support him while in office.
“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump,” the report says. “Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”
The released summary of the report says the following:
Unfortunately, the report provides no details why the Russian government would contribute efforts to support the US President that orders missile strikes on its allies (Syria), imposes new sanctions against Russia itself and arms hostile actors (like Ukraine and its far-right “volunteer battalions”) near the Russian border.
“Social media have gone from being the natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike,” the report further says.
Even if one takes seriously all the claims by the report and believes that the Russians “elected” Trump, an interesting issue appears in the provided picture: When the “democratic countries” like the US and its allies (Saudi Arabia, Israel etc) carry out media campaigns in the Social Media, this is a good thing developed to “defend democracy”. When similar operations are being conducted by China, Russia or any other independent state, this is a “great threat” to democracy.
There is a second report — prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee by researchers for New Knowledge, Columbia University and Canfield Research — claims almost the same describing the IRA as a mighty entity, which “created an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem.”
Summing up, the report claims almost the same as the first one, but uses other words.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the new accusations against Russia as unfounded.
“What I read about this report in public access can arouse nothing but misunderstanding,” Peskov said. “It voices some general claims and accusations, and some of them are absolutely unclear for us,” he explained. “They reproach us that someone criticizes the situation in the US social sector, but it does not say how this is linked to Russia.”
“We believe that these are absolutely unfounded claims,” Peskov stated. “The Russian state and the Russian government have nothing to do with any meddling [in other countries’ domestic affairs], moreover with this abstract kind of meddling.”
The abovementioned reports will likely be used by the US and its allies to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia and in some cases to justify hostile actions against Moscow in cyberspace. The US-led bloc has been already using its supreme cyber and media capabilities to wage multiple propaganda and cyber operations against its geopolitical oppnents – China, Russia, Iran and others. In case of Russia, this situation may escalate even further.