Cover: Foreign Interference in the 2020 Election

Foreign Interference in the 2020 Election

Tools for Detecting Online Election Interference

Published Oct 8, 2020

by William Marcellino, Christian Johnson, Marek N. Posard, Todd C. Helmus

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Research Questions

  1. Are malign information efforts directed against the U.S. populace occurring on social media?
  2. If so, how are these information efforts being conducted?
  3. How can these efforts be identified and countered?

Given past threats to U.S. elections, it is possible that foreign actors will again try to influence the U.S. political campaign season of 2020 via social media. This report, the second in a series on information efforts by foreign actors, lays out the advocacy communities on Twitter that researchers identified as arguing about the election. It goes on to describe what appears to be an instance of election interference in these communities using trolls (fake personas spreading a variety of hyperpartisan themes) and superconnectors (highly networked accounts that can spread messages effectively and quickly). Although the origin of the accounts could not be identified definitively, this interference serves Russia's interests and matches Russia's interference playbook. The report describes the methods used to identify the questionable accounts and offers recommendations for response.

Key Findings

  • Credible evidence of interference in the 2020 election was found in Twitter communities.
  • This interference includes posts from trolls (fake personas spreading hyper-partisan themes) and superconnector accounts that appear designed to spread information.
  • This interference effort intends to sow division and undermine confidence in American democracy.
  • This interference serves Russia's interests and matches Russia's interference playbook.
  • Methods outlined in this report can help identify online interference by foreign adversaries, allowing for proactive measures.


  • Continue to innovate methods of identifying information efforts.
  • Continue to publicize threats, targets, and tactics.

This research was sponsored by Cal OES and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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