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Russia isn't taking 2019 off

Russian President Vladimir Putin walking while holding a mushroom during a short vacation in August 2018. Photo: Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

In the United States, Russia's social media disinformation campaigns are often seen as an election-tampering issue. There's a good chance we'll spend 2019 talking about propaganda as something we have to prepare for before the 2020 election.

But, but, but: The propaganda isn't going anywhere in 2019. It's simply not tied to elections. Russia uses these campaigns to create discord over divisive issues. There's nothing that says that kind of chaos can't happen outside of an election.

  • So while a report to the U.S. Senate from the University of Oxford and the intelligence company Graphika made headlines this week as a past-tense review of the 2016 election, one of its key findings got overlooked.
  • The study reaffirmed that Russian propaganda peaked after the election, specifically in April 2017.

What they're saying: "The Kremlin won’t stop their efforts to sow chaos and confusion," said Camille Francois, research and analysis director for Graphika. "Our recent investigation for the U.S. Senate shows how tempting it is for the Russians: It’s proven cheap, effective and creates havoc as platforms and governments attempt to get ahead of the threat."

You can confirm Graphika's work in other ways. The Justice Department's indictment of Elena Khusyaynova, the chief accountant of the Russian misinformation campaign, shows that spending increased after the election.

Go deeper: The Russian social media disease spread beyond Facebook and Google