The media loves to claim how much Russia influenced the right on social media during the 2016 election.
A new study contradicts that narrative, however. The software company Symantec released a May 5 report that took a closer look at the Russian Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) activities during 2016. The report found that Russian influence, fake bot accounts, and deceptive tweets were not just aimed at Republicans, but also at Democrats.
Senior software engineer Gillian Cleary wrote that the Russian campaign “directed propaganda … at the more disaffected elements of both camps.” The campaign was not meant to elect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but rather “to inflame opinions on both sides.”
From Black Lives Matter activists to gun reform, the IRA tried to sew plenty of discord in the ranks of the left. Top liberal fake accounts included “wokeluisa” with the bio “APSA. #Blackexcellence. Political science major.” “JemiShaaaZzz,” who had the bio, “Teacher, Reader, Writer, Resister. #Resistance RESPECT LOVE LOYALTY.”
Cleary said “the top 20 most retweeted English language accounts were split evenly between conservative and liberal messages.” These accounts also created political rallies for their audiences to attend. Both sides of the spectrum were taken in by the IRA’s massive disinformation campaign.
Previous media narratives about the Russian influence focused only on Russians posing as Republican accounts. NBC News ran an exclusive in 2018 that claimed, “Russian troll accounts frequently retweeted right-wing celebrities and media accounts to boost their messages.”
However, from this study it seems as if the campaign was meant to stir up feelings that were already there, not artificially insert new political beliefs.