Nicholas Confessore and Daisuke Wakabayashi's "How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics", featured as the lead story in The New York Times Technology Section on October 9th, 2017, opens with these violent and divisive tales and images:
These are but a few examples of the radical content that a "shadowy Russian company" weaponized to magnify and amplify existing feelings in the America electorate. The Russian propagandists recirculated the most popular and most divisive posts recorded, posted or written by real Americans. Using these authentic posts as the fulcrum of their "far-reaching Russian program to influence the 2016 presidential election," the Russian program gave a louder voice, a longer reach and a sharper edge to the "anger, passion, and misinformation" found on American social media platforms
The Russian created pages deftly mimicked pre-existing pages using similar titling and formats, often buying Facebook ads (now shut down) to promote and test the impact of their chosen content, in order to find the posts that would have the greatest traction in the American political terrain. Though the Russian-created pages were written in poorly translated Russian to English "with names like 'Being Patriotic,' 'Secured Borders' and 'Blacktivist'," they borrowed rants from authentic U.S. conservative websites, weaponized fluffy lifestyle pieces as patriotism propaganda, and exploited YouTube videos with police beatings "sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect".
When New York Times reporters notified content creators regarding the Russians' "ripping" (posting content without links or attribution) their videos and blog posts, the American bloggers seemed startlingly unbothered by their content being used as weapons in a secret propaganda war to influence and divide America.
Online video creator, Waqas Shah, noticed his original Youtube video being used on the "United Muslims" Facebook (a Russian created page), and contacted them regarding attribution because he felt they were stealing his page-views and any associated revenue potential. When told that his video had been "used to sow division", he was unconcerned.
Houston- based right-wing pundit, Len Swanson, was also unbothered by becoming an "unwitting cog in the Russian propaganda machine". Equating Russia's tactics with America's own attempts to influence and intervene in other countries' politics, he shrugged it off.
While the Facebook accounts have largely been identified and deleted, some also crossed social media platforms, encompassing Instagram, Twitter and Youtube. This "trail of Russian digital bread crumbs" is a frustrating reminder to lawmakers as they attempt create regulations to hamper or purge these foreign influences.
When the New York Times spoke to Graphika Inc.'s founder, Dr. John Kelly, he explained that through Graphika's tracking of thousands of social media accounts, there was a clear pattern and strategy.
In addition to their own sites, the Russians also promoted and drove traffic to authentic conservative websites like "Next News Network", and "Trump Breaking News Network". This promotion works to drive up advertising, page views and revenues for these sites allowing them to reinvest and further organic circulation and promotion. The Russian system, in a sense, propels & propagates itself with America's own anger, fear, and greed.
This fusion of authentic American accounts and Russian accounts created an exceptionally persuasive synergy. As Graphika's Kelly explains below:
Read the entire fascinating article here.