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Photo: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment against 13 Russian cybercriminals shows that not only was social media the primary tactic used by Russian informants to meddle in the U.S. election, but that they were incredibly savvy about the way they used it, setting up IT, data and payment departments around their manipulation efforts.

Our thought bubble: The indictment will likely put more pressure on lawmakers and social media companies to find a path toward more oversight of bad actors using social media to manipulate Americans and meddle in elections. Expect more moves like Facebook's doubling of its security staff from other companies.

  • The indictment corroborates most of what has already been reported, which is that bad actors associated with the Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency set up fake accounts, bought ads and communicated with real U.S. people to meddle in the election using social media.
  • What's new is that the indictment affirms that the group launched in 2013 and that efforts to meddle in the election date as far back as 2014. It also states a budget of "millions" of U.S. dollars associated with the criminals' efforts and details how sophisticated their operation was.

Here are the big social media takeaways from the indictment:

  1. The indicted individuals were linked to the Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency, which employed roughly 100 people to manage social media manipulation of the US 2016 election beginning in 2014.
  2. They had an annual budget of roughly "millions of U.S. dollars."
  3. More than 80 individuals were assigned to a "translator project" to focus on social media manipulation efforts.
  4. The use of social media was extremely sophisticated, with bad actors setting up graphics, IT and finance departments.
  5. The Russian criminals and their co-conspirators traveled, or attempted to travel, to the United States under false pretenses in other to collect intelligence for their interference operations.
  6. They used U.S. VPNs and sophisticated technologies to delete their tracks, such data and emails linking them to nefarious behaviors.
  7. They had a stated goal of “spread(ing) distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
  8. They started contacting real U.S. citizens through fake accounts by at least June 2016.
  9. They used fake or stolen U.S. personas to set up PayPal accounts and conduct financial fraud to finance their efforts.
  10. Even after the election, criminals were still using these tactics to host fake support rallies for President-elect Trump.

Go deeper

DOJ watchdog to probe whether officials sought to alter election results

Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump exit Air Force One in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Jan. 20. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department's inspector general will investigate whether any current or former DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election, the agency announced Monday.

Driving the news: The investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times report that alleged that Jeffrey Clark, the head of DOJ's civil division, had plotted with President Trump to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen in a scheme to overturn the election results in Georgia.

1 hour ago - Podcasts

Google's chief health officer Karen DeSalvo on vaccinating America

Google on Monday became the latest Big Tech company to get involved with COVID-19 vaccinations. Not just by doing things like incorporating vaccination sites into its maps, but by helping to turn some of its offices and parking lots into vaccination sites.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into what Google is doing, and why now, with Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google's chief health officer who previously worked at HHS and as health commissioner for New Orleans.

Biden signs order overturning Trump's transgender military ban

Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

President Biden signed an executive order on Monday overturning the Trump administration's ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

Why it matters: The ban, which allowed the military to bar openly transgender recruits and discharge people for not living as their sex assigned at birth, affected up to 15,000 service members, according to tallies from the National Center for Transgender Equality and Transgender American Veterans Association.