After years of waiting and speculation, the widely anticipated Mueller Report was finally released for public viewing Thursday morning. The 448-page document can be viewed here.
Russian meddling in U.S. politics via social media was a major topic of the report. Unfortunately, Attorney General William Barr chose to redact large portions of this section of the report, citing “Harm to Ongoing Matters.” These redacted sections include information on “Project Lakhta,” the larger Russian scheme of which 2016 election interference was one part.
And yet, the unredacted portions of Mueller’s Report do shed light on the scope and severity of Russian interference before, during, and after the election. The report uses the heading “Russian ‘Active Measures’ Social Media Campaign, ” identifying “active measures” as a term referring to “operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs.” Mueller’s team primarily focused on the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organization that devised and implemented “a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify social and political discord in the United States.” In describing their approach, the IRA coined the phrase, “information warfare.”
In 2014, members of the IRA traveled to the United States under false pretenses to gather intelligence and photographs for the creation of fictitious social media accounts. Mueller’s report alleges that, in the early days, the IRA staged a more general campaign to sow discord in America. However, the campaign evolved into a more specific effort to damage Hillary Clinton’s public image while promoting Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions.
The Mueller investigation outlines the methods IRA operatives used to stage a sophisticated, multifaceted attack on American public discourse. Posing as activists and grassroots organizers, members of the IRA created thousands of fictitious social media profiles and group pages. These accounts often covered divisive political topics including Tea Party news, gun reform, Black Lives Matter, border security, LGTB rights, patriotism, and Islam. The IRA infiltrated many of America’s most popular social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Tumblr, often using bots to share and amplify their misinformation.
Mueller’s team estimated the IRA’s social media campaign to have reached upwards of 127.4 million Americans. In fact, Russian accounts were so entrenched in the social media landscape that multiple US politicians including the Trump Campaign were discovered to have interacted with and promoted IRA content.
IRA members also purchased thousands of social media advertisements, using U.S. business names to obscure their identities. On Facebook alone, the IRA spent approximately $100,000 on over 3,500 targeted ads. With very few exceptions, these advertisements promoted Trump’s campaign and disparaged Clinton’s:
In addition, IRA members used fake social media accounts to influence American behavior beyond the internet. Mueller’s report describes how the IRA “organized and promoted political rallies inside the United States while posing as grassroots activists,” using fictitious profiles to publicize events and coordinate logistics. The IRA utilized group pages with thousands of followers to send numerous direct messages inviting members to political rallies and protests. In order to conceal their involvement and legitimize these events, Russian operatives would locate American citizens willing to take official leadership on the ground. Then, IRA members would contact American media about the event, encouraging them to communicate with these newly appointed coordinators.
Finally, the Mueller Report explains that many of the IRA’s criminal activities violated United States law, leading to conspiracy and identify theft charges.