is an influencer campaign similar to the one in 2016 still possible?


By Damien Leloup and Martin Untersinger

Posted today at 15:37, updated at 15:58

In 2016, in the presidential election that saw Donald Trump reach the White House, the big platforms of Silicon Valley saw nothing coming. Using false profiles and targeted advertisements, agents of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Kremlin’s propaganda office on the Internet, were able to set up an operation to manipulate the American presidential election, without being detected or worried by anyone.

These “state trolls” targeted “users dissatisfied with the social and economic situation”

It took several months and lengthy parliamentary and judicial investigations to lift the veil on this offensive: 126 million people were exposed to their content on Facebook, about 1.4 million on Twitter. Fake accounts also posted, to a lesser extent, on Instagram or on YouTube. These “State trolls”, installed in an anonymous building in St. Petersburg, were interested in “To controversial social and political questions in the United States” and were particularly aimed “Users dissatisfied with the social and economic situation”, according to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment indicting thirteen of them.

Their goal was to support Donald Trump and to harm Hillary Clinton, according to the conclusions of a thick bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, published in October 2019. To do this, they patiently built fake profiles in order to give credibility, and have used them to disseminate messages, videos or memes on social topics, such as racism, guns or feminism.

Fully exploiting the marketing tools that made Facebook’s fortune, in particular targeted advertising, Russian agents have targeted certain categories of the population: Democrats close to Bernie Sanders, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, certain populations in states -keys for election or African Americans. All to criticize Hillary Clinton, to discourage her voters from mobilizing and, more broadly, to divide American society and accentuate its divisions – a historical objective of the Russian intelligence services, under the USSR as more recently.

An ever-present threat

The threat still seems to loom over the presidential election four years later, and is not limited to Russia. In November 2019, US home justice ministers, intelligence and FBI chiefs, among others, issued a statement citing “Russia, China and Iran”, as well as “Other malicious foreign actors”. The latter, they write, will “Attempting to interfere in the voting process or to influence the perceptions of voters”. “These adversaries, they continue, can accomplish their goals through social media campaigns, disinformation operations or cyber attacks. “ A few weeks ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that Russia was, he said, “Very active” for “Interfere” in the election and aimed to “Denigrate Joe Biden”.

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