A pair of reports prepared for the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee suggests Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) allegedly used social media to smear Robert Mueller during his special counsel investigation into Russia's supposed role in influencing the results of the 2016 presidential election.
As noted by Business Insider, one of the reports was released on Monday and prepared by New Knowledge, Columbia University, and Canfield Research. This report, much like separate documents obtained and published on Sunday by the Washington Post, took a look at how the IRA, which was indicted on criminal charges as part of the Mueller investigation, used social media and other tools to "sow partisan discord" and discredit the probe.
Although news outlets such as the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker mentioned the IRA by name, Business Insider noted that the reports accused the group of continuing its disinformation campaign and "redirecting" its focus toward Mueller and former FBI director James Comey, who was fired by President Donald Trump in May 2017, thus necessitating Mueller's appointment as special counsel.
"As articles began to emerge about election interference — pointing the finger at Russia — the IRA didn't shy away or ignore it," the New Knowledge report read, as quoted by Business Insider.
"It used derision and disparagement in content targeting the Right-leaning pages, to create and amplify the narrative that the whole investigation was nonsense, that Comey and Mueller were corrupt, and that the emerging Russia stories were a 'weird conspiracy' pushed by 'liberal crybabies.'"Citing an example of the tactics allegedly employed by the IRA, New Knowledge brought up a meme claiming how Mueller "worked with radical Islamic groups" to get rid of anti-terrorism literature that could potentially offend Muslims. The group reportedly took aim at Comey using similarly leading memes, Business Insider added.
All in all, it is believed that the IRA's social media campaigns, which included posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, reached "tens of millions" of U.S.-based viewers, as noted by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project, whose report was cited Sunday by the Washington Post.
"Surprisingly, these campaigns did not stop once Russia's IRA was caught interfering in the 2016 election."According to the Computational Propaganda Project's report, it was also a surprise that the IRA made good use of Instagram in its social media campaigns in an apparent effort to target younger viewers. Per the Week, Instagram had actually turned out to be the IRA's most frequently used platform, based on the researchers' analysis of more than 10 million social media posts. Furthermore, the IRA allegedly got better engagement rates after the organization was charged by Mueller, as the posts focused on national security and public policy issues, as well as topics relevant to "younger, Instagram-using" voters.