The US state department has cut off funding to a group that purported to combat Iranian propaganda, after it was found to be trolling US journalists, human rights activists and academics it deemed to be insufficiently hostile to the government in Tehran. The group also focused on supporters of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Donald Trump withdrew from last year, particularly the National Iranian American Council, which has advocated nuclear diplomacy with Tehran. It used the hashtag #NIACLobbies4Mullahs.
The social network said in a blog that it had identified 17 suspect profiles on Facebook and seven Instagram accounts. It said that there were more than 9,500 Facebook posts created by the accounts and one piece of content on Instagram. In total more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages involved, it added.
The RT and Twitter teams held a number of direct negotiations, during which we brainstormed potential media strategy ahead of American elections in 2016. The first meeting dates back to as early as April 2016, and involved senior marketing and news partnerships managers from Twitter.
As the presidential election heated up in the spring of 2016, RT consistently featured negative stories about Mrs. Clinton, according to United States intelligence officials. That included claims of corruption at her family foundation and ties to Islamic extremism, frequent coverage of emails stolen by Russian operatives from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, and accusations that she was in poor physical and mental health.
By meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Moscow appears to have initially aimed to plant Donald Trump in the White House. But as signs toward the end of the campaign pointed to Trump’s defeat, actors in Russia were primarily trying to hamstring Hillary Clinton’s perceived ascension to the presidency.
The Russians who posed as Americans on Facebook last year tried on quite an array of disguises. There was “Defend the 2nd,” a Facebook page for gun-rights supporters, festooned with firearms and tough rhetoric. There was a rainbow-hued page for gay rights activists, “LGBT United.” There was even a Facebook group for animal lovers with memes of adorable puppies that spread across the site with the help of paid ads.
The Russian information attack on the election did not stop with the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails or the fire hose of stories, true, false and in between, that battered Mrs. Clinton on Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik. Far less splashy, and far more difficult to trace, was Russia’s experimentation on Facebook and Twitter, the American companies that essentially invented the tools of social media and, in this case, did not stop them from being turned into engines of deception and propaganda.