Millions of posts on social media by Russians focused at helping Trump, GOP

WASHINGTON – The Senate intends to publicly release a report Monday that found Russia engaged in an all-out social media campaign on Donald Trump’s behalf during the 2016 election and continued to support him after he took office. 

The Senate report, compiled by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and a social media analysis firm called Graphika, looked at millions of posts on every popular social media platform from Facebook to Pinterest that were provided to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Post.

The report said those posts used text, videos, memes and pictures in a targeted effort to boost Trump at important moments in the campaign like the debates and conventions, the Post reported. The newspaper said the posts were from “several years up to mid-2017,” but more recent activity was not covered by the report. 

“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party – and specifically Donald Trump,” the report says, according to the Post. “Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting.”

The Russian campaign used a range of platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and even Google+ to energize conservatives on issues like immigration and gun control. And posts were aimed at almost every imaginable demographic group, while also spreading misinformation about how to vote, the report said, according to the Post. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee has not said if it endorses the report’s findings. The committee intends to release another related study later this week, the Post reported. 

The social media companies have taken steps to address the issue of Russia and other foreign powers using their platforms to spread misinformation for political purposes after sharp criticism from lawmakers and consumers in the wake of the 2016 election. But critics have wondered if those steps go far enough as evidence shows the efforts at manipulation continue. 

In February, special counsel Robert Mueller – who is leading the Justice Department investigation into Russian election meddling – indicted 13 Russian nationals and the Russian Internet Research Agency in an alleged conspiracy to influence the 2016 election. 

The Internet Research Agency operated a “troll farm” based in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hometown that employed hundreds of English speakers with “a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including… supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” according to the indictment.

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