After Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate alleged Russian election interference, the same Russian operatives that worked to divide the American people and help President Trump get elected made the special counsel a target, according to two reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Researchers say the Russians used Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms to attack Mueller as corrupt and paint allegations of Russian election interference as "crackpot conspiracies," the Washington Post reports. One post claimed Mueller had worked with radical Islamic groups. The Russian agents also targeted former FBI chief James Comey as a "dirty cop," according to the researchers, who analyzed more than 10 million posts on social media. More:
- Humor. The researchers found that the Russians from the Mueller-indicted "Internet Research Agency" were fond of using humor to attack the Mueller investigation. One widely shared image showed Hillary Clinton with the caption: "Everyone I don’t like is A Russian Hacker."
- Instagram. "Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency," though they were active on many others, the researchers found. The group created just 133 Instagram accounts, but a dozen of them attracted more than 100,000 followers, Wired reports. The researchers say the Russians, possibly attracted by the younger demographic, doubled their Internet use in the months after Trump's election.
- Other sites. The report found that the Russians shifted among platforms including Tumblr, Medium, Vine, Reddit, making it harder to track their activity, the Post reports. They also used PayPal to sell items including a T-shirt that said, "I Support American Law Enforcement."
- They haven't stopped. The reports, created by Oxford University researchers, cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, researchers at the University of Oxford, and social media analysis firm Graphik, found that some of the Internet Research Agency accounts are still active, though they tend to be on smaller social media sites after crackdowns by Facebook, Google, Twitter, the AP reports.
- Tech companies criticized. The reports say major tech firms dragged their feet when asked to provide information and "misrepresented" themselves when lawmakers asked them to provide information on Russian activity, the New York Times reports. YouTube, for example, did not disclose how many times videos created by the Russian accounts had been watched.
- "Fluent in American trolling culture." The researchers say Facebook posts from the group "reveal a nuanced and deep knowledge of American culture, media, and influencers in each community." The Internet Research Agency, they say, was "fluent in American trolling culture."
- Response from lawmakers. Senate Intelligence Committee leaders called for Silicon Valley to act on the information in the reports, Politico reports. The reports are "proof positive that one of the most important things we can do is increase information sharing between the social media companies who can identify disinformation campaigns and the third-party experts who can analyze them," said Richard Burr, the panel's GOP chairman.
- Greatest hits. The New York Times rounds up some of the Internet Research Agency's most popular posts, including a post saying "Like and share if you think our veterans must get benefits before refugees" that was shared more than 640,000 times. Analysts say some of the posts were nonpolitical ones designed to "prepare the ground" for later messages.
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