It has specifically targeted Democratic candidates in the most contentious races, including Senate seats up for grabs in Ohio, Arizona and Pennsylvania, and calculated that a Republican majority in the Senate and House of Representatives could aid Russia’s war effort.
Republican for a meeting with Senator Marco Rubio and other Florida Republican politicians and candidates competing in the 2022 US midterm elections in West Miami, Florida. Credit:AP
The campaigns show not only how vulnerable the US political system remains to foreign manipulation, but also how disinformation spreaders have evolved and adapted to the efforts of major social media platforms to remove or downplay false or deceptive content.
Last month, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a warning about the threat of disinformation spread by “dark web media outlets, online magazines, messaging applications, spoofed websites, emails, text messages and fake online personas. ”
The disinformation may include claims that voting data or results were hacked or compromised.
The agencies urged people not to like, discuss or share messages from unknown or distrustful sources online. They have not identified any specific efforts, but social media platforms and researchers tracking disinformation have recently uncovered several campaigns by Russia, China and Iran.
Recorded Future and two other social media research firms, Graphika and Mandiant, have found a number of Russian campaigns targeting right-wing Gab, Parler, Getter and other newer platforms that pride themselves on creating unmoderated spaces in the name of freedom. of speech.
Russian trolls are trying to help Republicans in the hope that they will reduce US support for Ukraine. Joe Biden said the NATO alliance will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.Credit:Bloomberg
These are much smaller campaigns than the 2016 election, where inauthentic accounts reached millions of voters across the political spectrum on Facebook and other major platforms. However, the efforts are no less damaging to reaching impressionable users who could help achieve Russian goals, researchers said.
“The audience is much, much smaller than on your other traditional social media networks,” said Brian Liston, a senior intelligence analyst at Recorded Future who identified the Nora Berka account. “But you can engage the public in much more targeted influence operations because those who are on these platforms are generally American conservatives who may be accepting more conspiratorial claims.”
Many of the accounts the researchers identified were previously used by a news outlet calling itself the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens. Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, has previously linked the news channel to the Russian information campaigns around the Internet Research Agency.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, and Vladimir Putin in 2011. Progozhin, known as “Putin’s chief”, owns the IRA troll farm. Credit:AP
The network appears to have since disbanded, and many of its associated social media accounts have gone inactive after being publicly identified around the 2020 election. In August and September, the accounts became active again, as did sleeper cells.
Nora Berka’s account on Gab has many of the hallmarks of an inauthentic user, Liston said. There is no profile picture or identifying biographical details. No one responded to a message sent to the account through Gab.
The account, with more than 8,000 followers, posts exclusively on political issues — not in just one state, but across the country — and often spreads false or misleading messages. Most have little involvement, but a recent report about the FBI received 43 replies and 11 replies and was reposted 64 times.
Since September, the account has repeatedly shared links to a previously unknown website — electertruth.net — which Recorded Future said was almost certainly linked to the Russian campaign.
The first posts from Electiontruth.net are dated September 5th; since then, it has posted almost daily articles ridiculing Biden and prominent Democratic candidates while criticizing race, crime and gender policies that it said destroyed the United States. “America Under Communism” was a typical headline.
Liston said links to electtruth.net appear to be closely coordinated with the accounts on Gab linked to the Russians.
In another campaign, Graphika identified a recent series of cartoons that appeared on Gab, Gettr, Parler and the patriots.win discussion forum. The cartoons, created by an artist named “Schmitz,” humiliated Democrats in the tightest races of the Senate and Governor.
One that targeted Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, who is black, used racist motives. Another falsely claimed that Representative Tim Ryan, the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, would release “all Fentanyl distributors and drug traffickers” from prison.
The cartoons received little attention and did not spread virally to other platforms, according to Graphika.
A recurring theme of the new Russian effort is an argument that the United States under Biden is wasting money by supporting Ukraine in its resistance to the Russian invasion that began in February.
For example, Nora Berka posted a manipulated photo in September that showed Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a bikini pole dancer showered with dollar bills by Biden.
“While working-class Americans struggle to afford food, gasoline and baby food, Joe Biden wants to spend $13.7 billion more on aid to Ukraine,” the account said. Not coincidentally, that post echoed a theme that has received some attention among Republican lawmakers and voters who have questioned the delivery of weapons and other military aid.
“It’s no secret that Republicans—that’s a good portion of Republicans—were wondering whether we should support foreign adventures or someone else’s conflict,” said Graham Brookie, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab. , which has also followed foreign influence operations.
While Russians in the past tried to build large followings for their inauthentic accounts on the major platforms, today’s campaigns could be smaller and still achieve the desired effect – in part because the divisions in American society are already such a fertile bottom is for disinformation, he said. .
“Since 2016, it seems that foreign states can afford to take some of the gas off the gas,” said Perez, who previously worked at Twitter, “because they’ve already created such divisiveness that there are many domestic actors to carry the water of disinformation for them.”