Countering Russian Social Media Influence
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In January 2017, the U.S. intelligence community released a public report detailing a Russian influence campaign, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to disrupt the U.S. presidential election. Part of a larger multifaceted approach, this campaign included social media–based disinformation spread by both automated bots and paid trolls. Russia's strategy was to push several conflicting narratives simultaneously, deepening existing divisions within American society and degrading trust in Western institutions and the democratic process.
While it is unknown what impact the campaign might have had on the 2016 presidential election, or on individual opinions, it is clear that Russia's efforts reached many Americans through a variety of social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. The Russian "disinformation chain" that directs these campaigns starts from the very top — from Russian leadership, to Russian organs and proxies, through amplification channels such as social media platforms, and finally to U.S. media consumers. This report categorizes and analyzes different approaches and policy options to respond to the specific threat of Russian influence via disinformation spread on social media in the United States. It is meant to educate and inform U.S. government officials considering policies for combating Russian disinformation; social media companies undertaking efforts to reduce the spread of disinformation on their platforms; NGOs, think tanks, and academics developing new approaches to address the threat of disinformation; and the American public.