US authorities have charged a Russian woman who works as an accountant for the infamous Internet Research Agency, a troll farm funded by a pro-Putin oligarch that has been targeting the US democratic system since 2015.
The criminal complaint (pdf) reveals that the IRA is unleashing propaganda on the 2018 midterms, primarily on Facebook and Twitter, and is currently using tactics similar to those aimed at the 2016 elections, the criminal complaint says. It has spent $35 million on its operations since 2016.
The main aim of the IRA’s self-titled “information warfare” operation is to sow divisions in the US and undermine the political system, according to the documents. It allegedly did so by pushing vitriolic messages appealing to both the left and right: enflaming radical groups, those dissatisfied with inequality, and opposition social movements.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Russian trolls’ favorite topics for sowing discord
Since Dec. 2016, the trolls have zeroed in on the following hot-button topics to stir divisions in the US: the second amendment, immigration, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBTQ issues, the women’s march, and the NFL anthem. They would “anchor” these issues around particularly charged events, such as mass shootings, the Unite the Right rally in Charleston, police shootings of African American men, and big policy decisions or court politics in the White House.
Members of the IRA’s team analyze news articles and then send out talking points on how to spin them, in order to most enrage Americans. For example, when House speaker Paul Ryan, senator Marco Rubio, and late senator John McCain opposed Donald Trump on big issues, the instructions were to brand them as disingenuous or incompetent. They also capitalized on conspiracy theories about voter fraud to push for stricter voter ID rules, and peddled falsehoods about special counsel Robert Mueller.
One IRA member described their goal as to “effectively aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” Internal instructions also proved deeply racist, with one IRA member writing that, “colored LGBT are less sophisticated than white; therefore, complicated phrases and messages do not work.”
The IRA created Facebook accounts for non-existent people, with names like Helen Christopherson, Bertha Malone, and Rachell Edison. These were used to run Facebook pages like Stop A.I. (Stop All Invaders; which reached 194,221 total likes), and to contact US citizens and persuade them to promote rallies and fund advertising. These rallies included an anti-Trump flashmob outside the White House on July 4.
They also created fake Twitter personas that amassed tens of thousands of followers. As CNN reports, one of these, @wokeluisa, had more than 57,000 followers, with tweets embedded in articles by the BBC, USA Today, Time, Wired, HuffPo, BET, and others.
Calling for donations to a PAC opposing Democrats
The IRA used the Twitter account @CovfefeNationUS to encourage people to donate to an unnamed political action committee that aimed to unseat Democratic lawmakers, including speaker Nancy Pelosi, senator Elizabeth Warren, and representative Maxine Waters. It linked to the PAC in question.
Russian trolls tried to rile Americans by tweeting about themselves
That’s right. The account details two tweets that attacked the Russian interference operation itself. One, directed at Donald Trump’s account after the DoJ indicted 13 Russians, asks, “Still think this Russia thing is a hoax and witch hunt? Because a lot of witches just got indicted.” Another suggests that the indictees should go to Guantanamo Bay, while complaining that authorities were targeting propagandists and not undocumented immigrants.