Russian agents reached a staggering number of Americans through social media during the 2016 election campaign, and sites like Facebook missed some obvious signs of what was happening, according to a report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The report, seen by the Washington Post, found that Russians at the "Internet Research Agency" divided Americans into interest groups and targeted them across social media, posting on smaller sites like Tumblr as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. "What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party—and specifically Donald Trump," the report states. Over three years, the Russians' Instagram posts alone had more than 185 million likes.
"Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged these groups to support his campaign," the report states. Groups expected to oppose Trump, including black voters, were "provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract and ultimately discourage members from voting." The report's authors—who warned that social media has become a tool capable of undermining democracy—says online operations linked to the Russian government targeted the US as early as 2013. They say social media giants apparently failed to spot that groups like "Black Matters US" had left contact numbers in Russia—and paid for their ads in rubles. (Bernie Sanders says his campaign warned Hillary Clinton about Russian meddling.)