New research finds Russian groups targeted former President Donald Trump’s social media platform Truth Social during the 2022 midterm elections. The report, conducted by the Stanford Internet Observatory and Graphika, found that Russian groups have moved on from Facebook and Twitter, where they are largely blocked, to targeting conservative-based social media platforms including Gab, Gettr, Parler, in addition to Truth Social.
The recent report uncovered the Kremlin’s interference in social media is greater than previously believed. The report says, “Suspected Russian actors have leveraged alternative social media platforms to target right-wing U.S. audiences with divisive political narratives to a greater extent than previously known.”
According to the report, those involved were “building on previous foreign influence operations (IO) likely conducted by the same actors since at least 2020.”
The findings revealed the trolls attempted to “undermine public support for Ukraine in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war,” and “due to an apparent lack of enforcement, the actors have established a degree of persistence unavailable on most mainstream platforms and are able to conduct their operations with relative ease.”
Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) is a troll farm that’s widely linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and was first found to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
The IRA reportedly created accounts posing as Americans to spread polarized extremist views in the U.S., a problem that continued through the 2022 midterm elections.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was a special counsel for the Justice Department at the time, indicted the IRA in 2018 as well as Prigozhin and 12 others found to be involved as part of a larger operation called Project Lakhta, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.
The Foundation to Battle Injustice was identified as a prominent participant in the trolls’ posts, which is self-described as a human rights organization “founded with the assistance of Russian entrepreneur Yevgeny Prigozhin.”
Prigozhin continues to remain on the FBI’s most wanted list, and in November he said he planned to continue to interfere in U.S. elections.
Prigozhin previously denied all allegations of meddling on social media, but in November he admitted to pushing alt-right content on behalf of the Kremlin. CNN reported that Prigozhin boasted of his interference in a Telegram post, “Gentlemen, we have interfered, are interfering, and will interfere. Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.”
Although Facebook and Twitter have moderated the content and periodically purge their sites of violent and extremist accounts, Graphika’s director of investigations, Tyler Williams, said the Russian-pushed content isn’t moderated as stringently on conservative platforms.
“The tactics are exactly what we’ve come to expect from these actors since 2016. They use fake personas to imitate, infiltrate and attempt to influence a specific online community,” Williams told NBC News.
“These personas then coordinate across multiple platforms to amplify division and exacerbate existing tensions,” he added. “This is precisely the behavior that gets them caught on Facebook and YouTube, but on alt-tech platforms they appear to enjoy relatively free rein.”