Professional trolls at the Russian IRA

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30 Nov 2019, 3:18 am

The Russian Internet Research Agency, which is currently under US federal indictment for its interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election, is composed of professional trolls trying to drive a wedge between Americans, as documented in this excellent article by Rolling Stone Magazine. Interestingly, the trolls do not aim to anger their audience, but instead to appeal to them and play on their prejudices to create a feeling of disgust. Here is an example of a disinformation campaign targeted at the left:

Quote:
As good marketers, professional trolls manipulate our emotions subtly. In fall 2018, for example, a Russian account we identified called @PoliteMelanie re-crafted an old urban legend, tweeting: “My cousin is studying sociology in university. Last week she and her classmates polled over 1,000 conservative Christians. ‘What would you do if you discovered that your child was a homo sapiens?’ 55% said they would disown them and force them to leave their home.” This tweet, which suggested conservative Christians are not only homophobic but also ignorant, was subtle enough to not feel overtly hateful, but was also aimed directly at multiple cultural stress points, driving a wedge at the point where religiosity and ideology meet. The tweet was also wildly successful, receiving more than 90,000 retweets and nearly 300,000 likes.

This tweet didn’t seek to anger conservative Christians or to provoke Trump supporters. She wasn’t even talking to them. Melanie’s 20,000 followers, painstakingly built, weren’t from #MAGA America (Russia has other accounts targeting them). Rather, Melanie’s audience was made up of educated, urban, left-wing Americans harboring a touch of self-righteousness. She wasn’t selling her audience a candidate or a position — she was selling an emotion. Melanie was selling disgust. The Russians know that, in political warfare, disgust is a more powerful tool than anger. Anger drives people to the polls; disgust drives countries apart.


https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/p ... er-916482/

Interestingly, they initially gather their followers through uplifting tweets meant to appeal to them, before breaking out the disinformation campaign meant to make their audience disgusted at the other side:

Quote:
On August 22, 2019, @IamTyraJackson received almost 290,000 likes on Twitter for a single tweet. Put in perspective, the typical tweet President Trump sends to his 67 million followers gets about 100,000 likes. That viral tweet by @IamTyraJackson was innocent: an uplifting pair of images of former pro football player Warrick Dunn and a description of his inspiring charity work building houses for single mothers. For an anonymous account that had only existed for only a few months, “Tyra” knew her audience well. Warrick’s former coach, Tony Dungy, retweeted it, as did the rapper and producer Chuck D. Hundreds of thousands of real users viewed Tyra’s tweet and connected with its message. For “Tyra,” however, inspiring messages like this were a tool for a very different purpose.

The purpose of the Tyra account, we believe, was not to spread heartwarming messages to Americans. Rather, the tweet about Warrick Dunn was really a Trojan horse to gain followers in a larger plan by a foreign adversary. We think this because we believe @IamTyraJackson was an account operated by the successors to Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA). Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted the IRA for waging a massive information war during the 2016 U.S. election. Since then, the IRA seems to have been subsumed into Russia’s Federal News Agency, but its work continues. In the case of @IamTyraJackson, the IRA’s goal was two-fold: Grow an audience in part through heartwarming, inspiring messages, and use that following to spread messages promoting division, distrust, and doubt.


There's a lot of good info in this article.


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