back to article Silent night, social fight: Is Instagram the new Facebook for pro-Trump Russian propagandists?

Instagram may have been the most effective social media network for Russian spies in their effort to sway America's 2016 presidential election toward Donald Trump. That's one of several new revelations in two reports commissioned by the US Senate's Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian misinformation, released on …

  1. MiguelC Silver badge

    Someone posted on Google+ ?

    Obvious fake news!

  2. holmegm

    If you believe that propaganda was necessary for people to be concerned about excess immigration, I have a bridge to sell you.

    Anyway, sure, let's have some government regulate all of our communications for truthiness. What could go wrong with that?

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      I was watching the posts on Facebook during Brexit and the 2016 election in the US and it was blindingly obvious that their users were being manipulated via the targeted adverts. But ever since Trump and the Brexiters "won" the votes, they have been working to deny that their victories were organized by third parties.

      Now they say things like "Anyway, sure, let's have some government regulate all of our communications for truthiness. What could go wrong with that?" Wait, didn't some government just persuade you to vote against your own interest and vote for theirs instead?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Not exactly what it seems

        I was watching the posts on Facebook during Brexit and the 2016 election in the US and it was blindingly obvious that their users were being manipulated via the targeted adverts.

        Indeed. That goes both way by the way.

        As far as Instagram, the slimy sods(*) in RT use it as a CDN. Half of their stories have > 50% Instagram content. They are not the only ones, several other Russian media sites also use the same approach. It saves them money :)

        Now, on the content. A significant and increasing component of the Russian media content is "The West Sucks". Race related material, police brutality selection, etc - you name it.

        That has been happening post-Crimea and has little to do with the US elections. It is something happening over both pro-government and some of the opposition media. It is also predominantly geared towards THEIR audience (both at home and abroad).

        An easy way to discern the targeting is that it is occasionally sprinkled with some USSR and even Stalin days nostalgia. IMO the change and its chronology can be visualized too. Worst news is this accelerating so if anyone here remembers the history books, so assume "Brace Position".

        The Americans have been so gullible to be duped by propaganda that is predominantly oriented towards Russian speaking audience. Actually nothing surprising here. They think that they are the centre of the world all the time.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Not exactly what it seems

          Stalin days nostalgia

          Sure, you might get sent to the Gulags or shot for wearing blue jeans, but at least the trains ran on time(*)..

          (*) Except when they didn't - because the driver annoyed someone in the Politbureau and is currently breaking rocks in Siberia..

      2. Wellyboot Silver badge

        subtle..not

        >>>didn't some government just persuade you to vote against your own interest and vote for theirs instead?<<<

        That's a big assumption that you know what anyone else should consider to be in their interests. I'm more inclined to believe Russia is just trying to generally undermine any national unity & confidence in election methods by poking at the latent bigotries that abound in society.

        Self indulgent populism worthy of a banana republic isn't just an American problem. Any type of blatant lies can now be spouted as 'facts' globally via social media and attempting to refute or denounce them is hailed as a conspiracy.

        1. holmegm

          Re: subtle..not

          "That's a big assumption that you know what anyone else should consider to be in their interests."

          That's really what they think though.

          They think they are just so clearly and obviously right, that the only way someone could disagree with them is by being duped by propaganda, being an idiot, being a racist, etc.

          Often that works for them - groupthink and peer pressure are things, after all.

          But with Trump, Brexit, etc. it didn't work ... and that scares them, mightily.

      3. holmegm

        "Wait, didn't some government just persuade you to vote against your own interest and vote for theirs instead?"

        No, they didn't.

        Again, if you believe that propaganda was required to get anyone to disagree with you ... well, that speaks for itself.

        Believe it or not, people can and do disagree with you without being dupes of propaganda.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Again, if you believe that propaganda was required to get anyone to disagree with you ... well, that speaks for itself.

          Nice straw man you have there. Care to try offering a real argument now?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > But ever since Trump and the Brexiters "won" the votes, they have been working to deny that their victories were organized by third parties.

        If the vote and propaganda had both gone the other way, so would the defensiveness. Accusing someone of being duped won't win you any brownie points with them.

    2. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Petrol on flames

      The propaganda did not create the divisive issues, but it certainly did its best to inflame them, and manipulate the discussion. If an arsonist sets a house on fire, a bystander is guilty too, if he proceeds to pour petrol on the flames.

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      let's have some government regulate all of our communications

      In other news, straw men are made of straw and a big fires gonna burn..

  3. Ole Juul Silver badge

    freedom and choice

    I thought that in a democracy people were free to make up their own minds. If they're going to be influenced by propaganda then that's their choice to make.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: freedom and choice

      Don't forget that Hitler was elected democratically by your standards.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: freedom and choice

        Don't forget that Hitler was elected democratically by your standards.

        Technically, he wasn't. His party was the first one in number of elected members but didn't had the majority (33% only). Without the support of the conservatives and the refusal of the Communists to join with the Socialists, he wouldn't have been chosen as Chancelor by the German President.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "e wouldn't have been chosen as Chancelor by the German President."

          Still, he was democratically chosen following the rules. Like many other dictators - only a few took power with a full coup. Many were able to take advantages of fears, weakness, divisions and propaganda to take the power.

      2. Rogerborg 2.0

        Re: freedom and choice

        > "Don't forget that Hitler was elected democratically by your standards."

        I didn't think you'd concede the debate that easily, but here we are.

      3. EBG

        Re: freedom and choice

        Don't forget that Hitler was elected democratically by your standards.

        Fine. Use that as an argument that the Germans can't be trusted with democracy if you really want to. But don't tell the rest of us that we have to give it up.

      4. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. veti Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: freedom and choice

      Exactly, like all those people who chose to contract asbestosis by living or working in a contaminated building, or who chose to be poor by being born in Africa. All those people deserve what they're getting. Where is the accountability?

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: freedom and choice

      Most people haven't a clue how advertising works so how can one expect them to not be influenced by propaganda? Both are basically snake oil but too many people don't understand that.

      1. Ole Juul Silver badge

        Re: freedom and choice

        I agree that most people don't have a clue, but I'm not convinced that I'm the one to judge or make their choices for them. I live in a country that has been flooded by US propaganda for decades and they spend lots of money on influencing our elections as well. This is not going to go away any quicker than advertising will. Democracy is still the best choice to my mind, and that means the only hope is that over time people will be able to take better responsibility for their own understanding of the situation. In the meanwhile, I don't think that censorship is a solution.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "I don't think that censorship is a solution."

          Censorship is very different from blocking nefarious activities which are aimed at destroying a democratic election.

          Not surprisingly, Putin has insured Russian main sites like Yandex, VKontakte, etc. are under his minions control - as he learnt a lot from China, in the past years.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: "I don't think that censorship is a solution."

            Censorship is very different from blocking nefarious activities which are aimed at destroying a democratic election.

            When those "nefarious activities" are publishing information in a privately-owned forum in accordance with its terms of service, no, it is not. "Blocking" those "activities", if done by the government, would be censorship, pure and simple.

            Of course, should the owners of those forums decide to "block" the "activities", that's simply the owners of the press exercising their freedom. That isn't government censorship, and a press - unlike a common carrier - should be free from government interference in making those decisions.

    4. localzuk

      Re: freedom and choice

      It isn't about the choice to be manipulated. Its about those doing the manipulating. US election law is quite clear about foreign influence - it isn't allowed.

      So, whilst people are entirely fine to believe whatever they want, it is not OK for Russia to be providing material aid to a presidential campaign through advertising etc...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "it is not OK for Russia to be providing material"

        Russia is free to do it - just not posing as someone else. I have no issue with propaganda as long as the source is clear. When "Voice of America" did its propaganda, it was clear where it come from. Up to you to believe it or not. If Russia Today makes its propaganda, it's fine. If it pretend to be a US patriotic group, or a Afro-American one, it's not.

    5. Rogerborg 2.0

      Re: freedom and choice

      Sadly, the zeitgeist on El Reg is very much London Bubble. The poor oppressed Low Information Voters needs to be protected from themselves. Especially the strengtheningly diverse ones. They're not really responsible for their actions, like a person would be, are they?

      Oh, unless they voted for Brexit, in which case, you know, all forking gammons must forking hang.

      It's tiresome, but what are you going to do? Only experience can narrow the mind.

    6. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: freedom and choice

      I thought that in a democracy people were free to make up their own minds.

      Anyone with a non-trivial understanding of human cognition and psychology knows that "make up their own minds" is an essentially meaningless phrase, but let's leave that to the side.

      If they're going to be influenced by propaganda then that's their choice to make.

      While that's also a dubious construction, I take the force of your point. People will be influenced by propaganda, and to the extent that they can choose anything at all, they can make the choice to be critical and informed, and thus less susceptible to having their supposedly free choices trivially dictated.

      And as any number of people will rush to point out, restrictions on propaganda are restrictions on freedom of expression, and many people (including me) deem that unacceptable. That's a fairly sophomoric observation, but let's have it explicit anyway.

      And any competent government is going to indulge in propaganda and misinformation campaigns against other governments.

      That said, there's value in investigating and reporting systematic propaganda efforts. They're of historical interest and useful in encouraging critical thinking. They're also a useful counter to the saccharine techno-utopianism of Silicon Valley culture.

  4. martinusher Silver badge

    Globalization?

    While I don't doubt that the Russian government has an interest in these tools its quite clear from the whole SCL/Cambridge Analytica story that this is primarily the turf of consultancies selling their services to whoever wants to pay for them. Its only commonsense to figure that if I wanted to employ a bunch of technology savvy people in an organized activity that was of a dubious ethical nature (and dubious legality) I'd go to somewhere like Russia to get it done.

    Don't forget the Daily Record (Scotland) story about the UK's very own "Internet Research Agency". This was pushing its own brand of propaganda, apparently to counter Russian PR but also to dish out dirt on the Labour party in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Financed by HM Government, no less. It appears that the only party in the dark around here were "the people" (but then if we're stupid enough to fall for a bunch of Internet trolls we probably deserve the government we get....).

  5. _LC_
    Thumb Down

    Constant distraction

    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-majority-of-americans-did-not-get-a-pay-raise-this-year-2018-12-12

    [More than half of Americans say they didn’t get a pay raise this year]

    *psssst!* Tomorrow the Chinese will be hacking your fish market.

  6. MrMerrymaker

    Instascam

    It's already riddled with bots, so I'd say it's already compromised

  7. devTrail

    The wrong culprit

    There may have been some propaganda on the internet, but Trump won the elections because he has been on TV for years, Trump won the elections because mainstream media dedicated most of their time to an obsessive Trump coverage (talk good or bad, but talk about him used to say the advertising industry already decades ago). Internet fake news have never been as effective as mainstream media fake news, internet propaganda has never been as effective as mainstream media propaganda.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: The wrong culprit

      What you say is why he won the republican nomination, but not necessarily the election. Name recognition and media attention can only get you so far. Trump still has as much media attention as he did then, but probably wishes he didn't since much of it involves his mounting legal woes.

      It can never be proven one way or another if Russian interference swung the election Trump's way, but he won by a pretty narrow margin - less than 100,000 votes total in three states decided the result so it wouldn't have needed to swing a single vote Trump's way - just disillusion enough potential Hillary voters into staying home.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: The wrong culprit

      but Trump won the elections

      Err.. I think you'll find he didn't. He lost the popular vote but the (unelected) U.S. Electoral College chose him anyway..

      (There was recently both an Only Connect *and* University Challenge question using the few US Presidents that got elected by the College despite losing the popular vote)

      1. devTrail

        Re: The wrong culprit

        Err.. I think you'll find he didn't.

        So what? The system in the US is skewed towards rural areas and states with lower population density and everybody knew it. He won a skewed system, but he won anyway, all the talks about popular vote (which legally does not matter) now are useful just to heighten the tension and polarize the opinions, the usual divide and rule.

        Actually the skew is a further signal of the importance of mainstream media, because of average age, education, bandwidth and other factors the penetration of old communication channels in rural areas is much higher than the internet. So Trump got more votes where mainstream media dominates and Clinton got more votes where internet usage is higher, but all the noise keep blaming the internet, do you really buy it?

        1. holmegm

          Re: The wrong culprit

          "So what? The system in the US is skewed towards rural areas and states with lower population density and everybody knew it."

          Which is why many of the states agreed to join the union.

          It was *designed* to water down the power of big population centers.

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Re: The wrong culprit

            Even though I think Trump is a disaster, I believe it would be a terrible idea to get rid of the electoral college. Right now candidates have an incentive to visit a lot of states, and a lot of areas in those states. If it was a national popular vote, they'd campaign only in the 20 biggest cities where most of the votes are, and not only their campaign priorities but their budget priorities would prioritize the issues of those cities and ignore all the rural areas and smaller states. Why care about farmers, for instance, when they are only 1% of the population?

            Its the same reason I think the way the primaries are done with big states coming later is better. Now maybe having Iowa and New Hampshire first every time isn't the right way, but small states should ALWAYS lead. That makes it possible for the unknown candidates with little money and little name recognition to make something happen. If a state like Texas or California was two weeks into the primary season, the big name candidates wouldn't bother to visit the states that came before so winning them would become irrelevant - meaning as much as a Bush winning Texas or a Kennedy winning Massachusetts.

            1. devTrail

              Re: The wrong culprit

              Even though I think Trump is a disaster, I believe it would be a terrible idea to get rid of the electoral college.

              Nobody talked about it. Now it's matter of understanding what is happening, getting the facts. The bias of the current system is evident and as I wrote before it can be used to show that mainstream media matters a lot more than the internet to determine the election results. Britons should take notice because the Brexit vote had similar voting patterns, and I already saw fake news about Russia interference in the Brexit vote popping out.

              1. DougS Silver badge

                Re: The wrong culprit

                And you assume the news about Russian interference in the Brexit vote is "fake" why, exactly? Clearly it would in Russia's interest for the EU to be weakened, so they have motive, and obviously have the means of doing so. They'd just need Putin's order to make it happen. I haven't paid any attention to that end, so I don't know if they did or not, but such a casual dismissal is extremely ignorant - especially if it is done because you falsely believe Russia did not interfere in the US election.

                Russian interference in the US election is being proven piece by piece, day by day, and it is hilarious watching the republican spin machine on Fox News trying to keep up with ever changing cover stories as they move from outright denials, to innocent explanations to "OK, we did that, but it wasn't a crime". It is sad that the GOP let themselves be duped by an obvious con man and criminal. I have to think that in the end, their story will be that Trump was a democrat plant all along, with Hillary throwing the election in order to discredit the GOP with a generation of voters. That will be the only story that doesn't make them look bad.

                1. veti Silver badge

                  Re: The wrong culprit

                  I note that the only "world leaders" who seem actively enthusiastic about Brexit are - Trump and Putin. Putin because it weakens the EU and what we used to call the "Western alliance", and Trump (I presume) because it would allow him to dictate his own terms of trade to an isolated and desperate UK. (Oh, and to please his buddy Putin, of course.)

                  Everyone else is still hoping it can be stopped, with the ignoble exceptions of the dodgy nationalists on the continent, and that idiot Corbyn at home.

                  1. Teiwaz Silver badge

                    Re: The wrong culprit

                    Everyone else is still hoping it can be stopped, with the ignoble exceptions of the dodgy nationalists on the continent, and that idiot Corbyn at home.

                    You must be the most ill-informed troll on the planet.

                2. devTrail

                  Re: The wrong culprit

                  And you assume the news about Russian interference in the Brexit vote is "fake" why, exactly?

                  I note that the only "world leaders" who seem actively enthusiastic about Brexit are - Trump and Putin.

                  As usual. You write a lot of posts about the weight and the prevalence of different communication channels and then pop out the trolls who pretend they did not understand and restart everything from scratch. Fake obtuseness that betrays the exhaustion of the argument. Anyway, it doesn't matter whether Putin has an interest in dividing Europe or not, he does not have the power to alter the vote, if you want to know who has the power look who are the owners of big media.

                  Everyone else is still hoping it can be stopped,

                  BS. A lot of European citizens who were never allowed to speak on the matter are fed up with British egoistic bickering and would be very happy so the the door closing once and for all.

            2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: The wrong culprit

              I believe it would be a terrible idea to get rid of the electoral college

              Certainly if we did, we'd better make damn sure to remove the clause from the 12th Amendment about the House of Representatives picking the President in the case of no candidate having a majority. Now that would be a fucking disaster.

              For decades there's been talk of amending the Constitution to require the States to appoint at least some Electors proportionally to the popular vote, rather than the winner-take-all system most still use. That might be better, though it still has perverse configurations (as does every voting system except equal approval voting).

      2. OopsSorryMyBad...

        Re: The wrong culprit

        You honestly don't know much about the Electoral College, do you? There's a little more to it than you seem to think. As for the nonsensical "popular vote" conspiracy theory, the US isn't a democracy. Never has been. Never will be. Wasn't set up that way. The US is a representative republic and for 200+ years has used the Electoral College to fairly elect its chief executive. Everyone, on all sides, knows this and every presidential election cycle they agree to and abide by it's outcome. Only one side, however, pitches a fit and throws a temper tantrum when they lose. That would be US Democrats. You may not like this, but, it's true.

        Trump did, in fact, win the election. He is a buffoon. But not any more so that the last few US presidents that preceded him.

  8. Walter Bishop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Instagram gave Trump the Presidency?

    Instagram may have been the most effective social media network for Russian spies in their effort to sway America's 2016 presidential election toward Donald Trump.”

    Trump a cross between Howard Beale and Chauncey Gardner. For the umpteemed time, so called Russian Facebook/Instagram adverts didn't hand Trump the election. What did was the acres of free airtime the conventional media game him. Nightly through-out the electon campaign it was Trump Trump Trump. There's a shot of him just after the results looking dazed and confused, even he didn't expect to win. You may ask and I'm sure Trump also asked the same thing, why me? .. because you're on television, dummy!

  9. Jay Lenovo

    As I use the "free" media... You realize what you "find" isn't always what you need, but rather what was baited, to catch "you".

    Russia definitely isn't the only group with a lure in the water. And if they're using Google+ probably not a very good fisherman.

  10. Potemkine! Silver badge

    if "Some folks are skeptical the social media memes had any impact at all"

    ... then let say that to advertisers who throw billions into social medias and tell them their money is wasted.

    Or the skeptical may be wrong.

  11. Twanky

    ...the internet titans were extremely unhelpful...

    Wait. What? You mean the companies who run the social networks were reluctant to do anything to highlight how they can be misused*? Whodathought? Why would anyone expect these turkeys to vote for Christmas?

    *It's one of those irregular verbs:

    I share interesting memes.

    You place political adverts.

    He pushes propaganda.

    We present the facts.

    You are economical with the truth.

    They are treacherous lying bastards.

  12. _LC_
    Flame

    Is it only me?

    When I hear about “Trump tweeting this” and “Elon Musk tweeting that”, it's the media giving me this non-information. I get this shit from the newspapers, television and online news. To me the alleged power of Facebook and Twitter is an ill excuse.

    The right wing party is growing in Germany, because they are in the media ALL THE FUCKING TIME. We can see the same situation in Italy. Macron was “evoked” by the media. Brexit was forced by the media – and now they are trying to blame this on “Russian fuckbook trolls”?!?

    I can still remember the media attention surrounding every fart of Mr. Trump. He was ON EVERYWHERE, in every fucking country!

    Thus, this has all been clearly coming from above and not from “below”. ;-P

  13. comprehensible

    The democracy is corrupt even without russian propaganda

    The Russians alerted us to the democrat's inside plot to oust Bernie sanders... and the russians will bring about laws to regulate internet propaganda, which can only be a good thing, and they pay have prevented another dynastic presedent scandal from happening in America too. It's stupid enough to have billionaire democratic leaders without also having billionaires which continue their leadership through their spouse or child.

    How likely is it that the best candidate in the nation happens to be the wife of the previous candidate? complete bollocks. Russia is not a dictatorship anyway, it's a dictamocracy.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: The democracy is corrupt even without russian propaganda

      and the russians will bring about laws to regulate internet propaganda

      Being discussed in their parliament today jointly with the second reading of the animal cruelty law. Sort-a prophetic combination, don't you think? Just not sure what is it that is being prophesied.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " have prevented another dynastic presedent scandal"

      Just wait for Kusnher becoming head of staff, and Ivanka trying to become the next president... Trump like dinasties even more than Clintons and Bushes.

      It is true that US politics have deep troubles - Democrats should have chosen a better candidate than the wife on a president - as if the son of another wasn't enough.

      Russia is a cleptocracy - just Russians are too blinded by nationalism to understand who much wealth is stolen from them each day by Putin and his cronies. And wait for Putin design his successor as well, if he doesn't attempt to become Czar before.

  14. Matthew Sawtell

    ...and people are surprised how?

    Sorry, but given the long history of propaganda on both sides of the pond, this is not necessarily news, but excuses to introduce censorship. Let's face it, given what has happened to InfoWars and Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) this year - there are more than a few folks that are asking for powers far and beyond most regular folks are willing to tolerate here in the Western world.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We can all play

    Isn't it obvious it was the UK interfering with US elections, and this is all to distract and blame it on the Russians?

    Who created that fake Dossier and who did he work for? Wasn't Russia.

    And his "highly placed Kremlin sources" who even our Fumbling Beauro of Instigation remarked were well out of date - Skripals? Conveniently poisoned with a publically available formula nerve agent (but only the Russians have chemist, who were a lot more remote than the chemical warfare plant nearby) that always kills and always has collateral damage except this one time, and whose victim is held incommunicado to this day by the UK?

    Fake news? Cui Bono people - who watches the watchers? Who wins if new powers of censorship arise? Divide and conquer is a long known political technique used forever in democracies where it works better and is more needed than in totalitarian states. What if the interference is coming from our own top levels, who as has been shown, repeatedly flaunt the laws on oversight of their spying and interfering activities. I recall one refugee in Russia and another in an Embassy who pointed this out....must be a really scary idea for the actually-guilty of these crimes, eh?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really?

    If you really expect honest reporting from someone in San Francisco then I have a couple of bridges to sell you.

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