Nov 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Russian disinformation campaigns again targeting midterms: Report

People cast early ballots in the upcoming midterm elections

People cast early ballots in the upcoming midterm elections at a polling station on Nov. 1 in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Researchers at several cybersecurity firms have discovered influence campaigns propelled by Russian bots and trolls that are targeting the upcoming 2022 midterms, the New York Times reported Sunday.

Why it matters: The reporting offers yet another look at how Russian disinformation networks are targeting midterms races, days after social media analysis firm Graphika published a report that Russia-linked actors were targeting close Senate and gubernatorial races by disseminating racist and inflammatory political cartoons by an artist identified as “Schmitz," Axios' Sam Sabin writes.

  • While done on a smaller scale than in 2016, these targeted campaigns have similar goals of fomenting uncertainty around the election and stirring up anger among conservative voters, in order to achieve Russian objectives, per the Times.
  • According to researchers, a new theme that has emerged among these disinformation campaigns is that the U.S. "is wasting money by supporting Ukraine in its resistance to the Russian invasion," per the Times

State of play: One such campaign consisted of accounts posing as Americans and targeted Democratic candidates in highly contested races across various states.

  • One of the accounts in the campaign — identified as Nora Berka — had links to Russia's Internet Research Agency, which helped spread disinformation in the 2016 and 2020 elections, the Boston-based cybersecurity firm Recorded Future told the Times.
  • Recorded Future's researchers uncovered numerous accounts that had previously been associated with the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens, a right-wing news outlet tied to Russia's Internet Research Agency.
  • Many of the accounts had gone dormant in 2020 after being discovered but had reactivated in August and September, per the Times.
  • In addition to the work by Graphika, researchers at the social media research company Mandiant have also discovered similar Russian campaigns, per the Times.

What they're saying: Asked about the New York Times report, former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the recently discovered campaigns show that "there is a broader community of actors" at play.

  • "They recognize that political discourse is very divisive here in the U.S. and they have more opportunities, probably than ever before, to continue to undermine confidence, to create chaos," Krebs said, adding that the U.S. has "seen reports lately of Russia, China and Iran back at their old tricks" when it comes to foreign actors interfering on social media platforms.
  • "Which is really their primary objective here," Krebs said. "Not necessarily that a winner wins, but that we've all lost confidence and they degrade the American democracy experiment."

The big picture: The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a public service announcement last month warning that foreign actors could "intensify efforts to influence outcomes of the 2022 midterm elections" by spreading allegations of voter suppression or fraud.

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