Dec 17, 2018

Senate-commissioned reports show scale of Russian misinformation campaign

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Two outside research groups used data obtained from Silicon Valley giants by the Senate Intelligence Committee to paint a sweeping picture of Russia’s online disinformation efforts both before and after the 2016 presidential election in reports released Monday.

Why it matters: "We should certainly expect to see recruitment, manipulation, and influence attempts targeting the 2020 election, including the inauthentic amplification of otherwise legitimate American narratives," said researchers from New Knowledge in the report they provided to the panel.

The groups’ findings bolster the public’s understanding of the Russian campaign and provide new details on how it operated:

  • The Internet Research Agency troll farm focused much of its attention on black audiences, creating "an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem," per the New Knowledge report. The group’s cultivation of sometimes-unsuspecting on-the-ground collaborators was "substantially more pronounced on Black-targeted accounts."
  • It engaged in voter suppression. New Knowledge said that "the suppression narratives were targeted almost exclusively at the Black community on Instagram and Facebook" in the lead-up to the 2016 election. The IRA simultaneously targeted right-leaning audiences with content raising fears of voter fraud.
  • The group's efforts didn't slow down after they became clear to the public. "Surprisingly, these campaigns did not stop once Russia's IRA was caught interfering in the 2016 election. Engagement rates increased and covered a widening range of public policy issues, national security issues, and issues pertinent to younger voters," said researchers from Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project.

The researchers' findings don't necessarily represent those of the Intelligence Committee, which is in the midst of a lengthy investigation into Russian interference.

The big picture: The Oxford researchers also highlighted the ways in which Facebook, Google and Twitter had made it difficult for the Senate panel and researchers to study the campaign.

  • New Knowledge added they expect Russian efforts to use smaller social media platforms and messaging services as the 2020 election approaches.

What they're saying: Senate Intel Chair Richard Burr said in a statement, "This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions. Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped."

  • "This should stand as a wake up call to us all that none of us are immune from this threat, and it is time to get serious in addressing this challenge," said Senate Intel Vice Chairman Mark Warner in a statement. "That is going to require some much-needed and long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media."

Read the two reports in full:

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The wreckage of summer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We usually think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer, with all of the fun and relaxation that goes with it — but this one is just going to remind us of all of the plans that have been ruined by the coronavirus.

Why it matters: If you thought it was stressful to be locked down during the spring, just wait until everyone realizes that all the traditional summer activities we've been looking forward to are largely off-limits this year.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.