Russia employed a multi-pronged approach in its efforts to sway the 2016 president election in favor of Donald Trump, and one of those prongs involved the creation of Facebook pages targeting left-leaning voters, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Those pages focused on deriding Hillary Clinton as they praised and promoted her rivals, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The voter suppression effort was focused particularly on Sanders supporters and African-Americans, urging them to shun Mrs. Clinton in the general election and either vote for Ms. Stein or stay home.
Whether such efforts had a significant effect is difficult to judge. Black voter turnout declined in 2016 for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, but it is impossible to determine whether that was the result of the Russian campaign.
Russia’s Internet Research Agency created 81 Facebook pages during the election, and of those, seven were aimed at the political left. The efforts succeeded in drawing 689,045 people, according to the report.
But Facebook was not the only social media platform used in the Russian campaign:
The New Knowledge report argues that the Internet Research Agency’s presence on Instagram has been underestimated and may have been as effective or more effective than its Facebook effort. The report says there were 187 million engagements on Instagram — users “liking” or sharing the content created in Russia — compared 76.5 million engagements on Facebook.
In 2017, as the American news media focused on the Russian operations on Facebook and Twitter, the Russian effort shifted strongly to Instagram, the report says.
The report also accused social media companies of misleading the public, the Times said.
“Regrettably, it appears that the platforms may have misrepresented or evaded in some of their statements to Congress,” the report says, noting what it calls one false claim that specific population groups were not targeted by the influence operation and another that the campaign did not seek to discourage voting.
“It is unclear whether these answers were the result of faulty or lacking analysis, or a more deliberate evasion,” the report says.
Following the election, the Russian influence campaign switched gears in an effort to cast doubt on the country’s involvement, according to the report.
After the election, the report says, the Internet Research Agency put up some 70 posts on Facebook and Instagram that mocked the claims that Russia had interfered in the election.
“You’ve lost and don’t know what to do?” said one such post. “Just blame it on Russian hackers.”