Sowing Discord


2016 Election

Thirteen individuals and three organizations were indicted by Robet S. Mueller in 2018 for being involved with interfering in the United States’ political processes, electoral processes, and 2016 election. The Russian individuals and organizations posed as U.S. citizens and false personas in order to make social media pages, groups, and purchase advertisements to attract the attention of U.S. audiences. They falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists while in reality, they were using stolen identities of real U.S. citizens to post on their organization-controlled accounts. These accounts posted divisive political and social subjects. Such as, supporting the campaign of Donald J. Trump, and opposing Hilary Clinton’s. According to Facebook’s data of Russia’s Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) influence online, 3,393 advertisements were purchased, more than 11.4 million American users exposed to said advertisements, 470 IRA-created Facebook pages made, 80,000 pieces of organic content created by those pages, and exposure of organic content to more than 126 million Americans. According to Twitter’s data there were more than 36,000 Russian-linked bot accounts tweeted about the U.S. election, about 288 million impressions of Russian bot tweets, and more than 130,000 tweets by accounts linked to the IRA.

Concerns Before 2020 Election

Former President Donald J. Trump calls the Russian influences hoaxes.

Two classified briefings in March of 2020 did little to help glue the divide back together between Former President Donald Trump’s Administration and the Democrats who were concerned about Russia interfering with the 2020 Election. The Democrats expressed concerns about the independence of the intelligence community after Trump replaced the former acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. Trump replaced the former Director with a loyalist, Richard Grenell, who had less intelligence experience and did not attend the briefing. Although the intelligence agencies said time and time again that Russia did in fact interfere with the 2016 Election in Trump’s favor, Trump dismissed the reports as hoaxes. Michael Waltz, a Republican Representative from Florida, stated that officials said that Russia and other countries were trying to rile up Americans and sow discord on both sides of whatever divisive topic online. However, government officials said that Russia scanned voting systems around the country, but there was no evidence that votes were changed.

Recent Attempts

Shown are social media posts that were tracked back to be linked to IRA-based information.

Even four years after Russia’s attempts to influence and cause chaos in the 2016 Election, they continued to do it for the most recent 2020 Election. However, the Russians grew better in imitating U.S. campaigns and political fan pages. These improvements made it harder for voters and social media platforms to identify Russian interference. Young Mie Kim, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, stated “For normal users, it is too subtle to discern the differences,” and that “By mimicking domestic actors, with similar logos (and) similar names, [the Russian-organized accounts] are trying to avoid verification.” Thomas Rid, a national security expert who has written about the Kremlin’s history of spreading disinformation, said that Russia had refined its techniques since 2016 and that new foreign actors joined the game. This made it more difficult to identify Kremlin-backed disinformation. FBI Director Chistopher Wray stated that Russia was still waging “information warfare” with their fictional media personas and bots that spreaded disinformation as their army. Leaders of America’s intelligence agencies cautioned that foreign actors were spreading false information in order to “cause confusion and create doubt in our system”. Despite all this, Russia repeatedly denied interfering in the U.S. elections. Maria Zakharova explained “You just want us to repeat again that we have nothing to do with the U.S. elections”.