The Russian bots and trolls blamed for former president Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory have reportedly returned to US social media platforms, ahead of next week’s midterm elections.
The New York Times claimed on Sunday that they are focusing their discord-sowing, disinfo-promoting attacks on alternative networks like Gab and Parler, citing researchers from Recorded Future, Mandiant and Graphika.
Questionable accounts believed to be linked to Russian “troll farm” Internet Research Agency are targeting conservatives ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, the researchers said, hitting familiar themes like voter fraud, Democrats’ perceived leniency on crime, the administration’s blank check to Ukraine, transgender children, and other hot-button issues.
The researchers acknowledged that any influence campaign waged on Gab, Gettr, or the former president’s Truth Social is necessarily much smaller than the IRA’s Facebook campaign from 2016, and admitted some of the content “did not spread virally to other platforms.” A Gab account held up as an example of an IRA personality resurfacing to meddle in the midterms had just 8,000 followers, with a post receiving as few as 43 responses.
However, they argued less effort was needed to sow discord than in previous elections. “Since 2016, it appears that foreign states can afford to take some of the foot off the gas, because they have already created such sufficient division that there are many domestic actors to carry the water of disinformation for them,” Twitter executive turned election security expert Edward Perez told the Times.