Russian government-connected Internet Research Agency targets the United States and the 2016 primaries and presidential election on social media
In April 2014, the Russian government-connected Internet Research Agency (IRA) established a team – known as the “translator project” – that “focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms,” according to the Department of Justice. By May, “the [IRA’s] strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of ‘spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.'” The IRA received funding for its interference operations from companies tied to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin insider known as “Putin’s chef.” Russian trolls created accounts impersonating Americans to influence domestic American debate over divisive issues, such as energy and climate policy, race, gun control, LGBT issues, and immigration, as well as to drum up support for candidates, including Jill Stein, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders. The IRA also published and amplified derogatory information targeted at candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, throughout the presidential and primary campaigns. The IRA funded political advertisements, related expenses such as “buttons, flags, and banners for rallies,” as well as rally leaders (usually Americans) through PayPal accounts and occasionally through use of cryptocurrency. The IRA also purchased false identification documents to create accounts at PayPal and online cryptocurrency exchanges. Since the election, Facebook alone has found over 470 accounts, which generated 80,000 posts reaching as many as 126 million Americans. The IRA also infiltrated Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, and the meme site 9Gag.