New Study: “Russian Trolls” Did Not “Sow Discord” – They Influenced No One

| Educate!

Above: From Down With Hillary on Twitter.

The U.S. has claimed that the Russia government tried to influence the 2016 election through Facebook and Twitter.

Russia supposedly did this through people who worked the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia. The IRA people ran virtual persona on U.S. social networks which pretended to have certain political opinions. It also spent on advertising supposedly to influence the election. U.S. intelligence claimed that the purpose of the alleged Russian influence campaign was to “sow discord” within the United States.

But the IRA had nothing to do with the Russian government. It had no interest in politics. And a new study confirms that the idea that it was “sowing discord” is blatant nonsense.


IRA influencer
The Mueller investigation indicted 13 Russian persons and three Russian legal entities over the alleged influence campaign. But, as we wrote at that time, there was more to it than the media reported:

The published indictment gives support to our long held believe that there was no “Russian influence” campaign during the U.S. election. What is described and denounced as such was instead a commercial marketing scheme which ran click-bait websites to generate advertisement revenue and created online crowds around virtual persona to promote whatever its commercial customers wanted to promote. The size of the operation was tiny when compared to the hundreds of millions in campaign expenditures. It had no influence on the election outcome.

The IRA hired people in Leningrad for little money and asked them to open accounts on U.S. social media. The virtual persona they created and ran were to attract as many persons to those accounts as possible. They did that by posting funny dog pictures or by taking strong political positions. They were ‘influencers’ who sold their customers’ products to the people they attracted.

The sole purpose was the same as in any commercial media. Create content to attract ‘eyeballs’, then sell those eyeballs to advertisers.

As Point 95 of the Mueller indictment said:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the [financial] accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.

The was no Russian government campaign to influence the 2016 election. There was only a Russian commercial media enterprise that used sock-puppet accounts with quirky content to attract viewers and sold advertisement space to U.S. companies.

The IRA also bought advertisements to attract more people to its accounts. But the amount it spent was tiny. The final price tag for the 2016 election was $6.5 billion for the presidential and congressional elections combined. The IRA spent a total of $100,000 to promote its own accounts. But only some $45,000 of that was spent before the election. It was 0.000007 cents for every election dollar that was spent during that time. It is statistically impossible that the mostly apolitical IRA spending had any effect on the election.

That the IRA ran a marketing machine and not a political operation was also obvious when one analyzed the content that those sock puppet accounts posted. Most of it was apolitical. Where it was political it covered both sides. Some IRA accounts posted pro-Trump content, others posted anti-Trump stuff. Some were pro-Clinton others against her.

U.S. intelligence services tried to explain that away by claiming that the Russians wanted to “sow discord”. There is zero evidence that this was really the case. It is simply an explanation that was made up because they failed to find a better one.

The real answer to the question of why different IRA accounts posted on different sides of the political spectrum is that the IRA wanted to maximize its income. One has to cover both sides if one wants to optimize the number of eyeballs one attracts.

FOX News is not pro-Trump because it wants to sow discord. Nor is CNN anti-Trump to serve that purpose. Both are in the business of attracting viewers to – in the end – sell advertisements. People flock to the TV station that fits the opinion they already have. Both stations promote by and large similar products.

The virtual IRA persona worked in similar ways. They took political positions to attract people who already had a similar one. One persona did that for the left, another one for the right. Neither changed the opinions of their followers.

A recently published study that looked at Twitter users who followed IRA sock puppet accounts and their content confirms that. It found that the IRA sock puppets had no influence on the opinions of their followers.

The study by U.S. and Danish researchers is headlined Assessing the Russian Internet Research Agency’s impact on the political attitudes and behaviors of American Twitter users in late 2017. It found:

Using Bayesian regression tree models, we find no evidence that interaction with IRA accounts substantially impacted distinctive measures of political attitudes and behaviors over a 1-mo period. We also find that interaction with IRA accounts were most common among respondents with strong ideological homophily within their Twitter network, high interest in politics, and high frequency of Twitter usage. Together, these findings suggest that Russian trolls might have failed to sow discord because they mostly interacted with those who were already highly polarized.

Most hardcore Republicans watch FOX New, most hardcore Democrats watch CNN. Neither TV station changes the core opinions of their viewers. They reinforce them.

The “Russian trolls” were virtual persona created to cover -in total- a wide spectrum. Some persona played hardcore Republican, other played hardcore Democrats. They created and posted content that fit to the role they played. Each attracted followers with opinions similar to those the virtual persona pretended to have. No opinion was changed through those contacts. No discord was sown.

The IRA then sold advertisement space to vendors to monetize all eyeballs its virtual personas attracted.

The U.S. intelligence agencies pretended that the commercial IRA was a political agency. It helped them to sell animosity against Russia and to pretend that Trump was somehow colluding with Putin.

But it all never made any sense.

  • voza0db
  • Pat moore

    Thank you

  • SupernaturalCat

    Corporate/state establishment based “conspiracy theories” are always calculated misdirects and disinfo …it’s the (so called) conspiracy theories (aka state crimes against democracy) that establishment interests are militantly opposed to that tend to be more reality based.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    So, the ongoing agit prop message is that Americans should not trust the basic institutions of our own government, which their lack of transparency for many years has given fertile soil for skepticism and rebellion? Thanks, anyway, but I’ll stick with the findings of the Mueller Report and what my common sense tells me about Our Mad King Donald’s seditious, self-serving, Anti-American, psychopathological behavior. Go Bernie and Elizabeth!

  • Jamie Clemons

    I tried to tell them but it does no good.

  • chetdude

    This article quotes the Mueller report as part of the proof that there was no “Russian influence” on either Trump’s actions or the election results.

    The Donald is a terrible symptom of the systemic disease but the Russia meme is entirely counter-productive when used to try to fight either Don or the disease…

  • mwildfire

    He’s a Mad King all right but that doesn’t mean that the Russkies are hiding under the bed. Likely there WAS foreign interference but it came from England in the form of Cambridge Analytica. And how about Israel–they certainly like Donny tho I think they had no quarrel with the War Queen either. Yes–Americans should NOT trust the basic institutions of our government, which lies to us constantly, spies on us constantly, kills people in other countries at a slow steady drip, increasingly hides its doings from the people paying for it, militarizes its police, and blocks progress on climate mitigation. Among other things.

  • PeterPaget

    Moon is just a propagandist. Mostly it makes statements of opinion with little to no factual backup. I guess it is preaching to some kind of choir here.

  • Margaret Flowers

    He quoted the Mueller report and a published study as factual backup.

  • DonRice

    People like that don’t care, Margaret. If the facts don’t conform to their beliefs, then the facts are the conspiracy theory.

  • PeterPaget

    Margaret It looks like we have a distinctly different set of values and a different way of understanding information. I will copy in comments from and other source which are completely at odds with Moon and his crazy spin:

    “As Eric Lohr, an American University historian specializing in Russia, summarized
    it, “By the early 18th century, Russia was routinely meddling in
    internal Polish electoral politics.” This should sound quite familiar to
    Americans in the era of Donald Trump.

    Vladimir Putin’s Russia interfered in our elections in 2016, as U.S. intelligence agencies have clearly documented. Not only that, but Moscow has spent
    years denying it and deflecting blame by spreading the false rumor that
    Ukraine—a country that, like 18th-century Poland, it wants to weaken
    and ultimately dominate—was the one who did it.

    Any objective analysis would treat those Russian denials as no more
    trustworthy than, for another example, Russian claims that they strictly
    follow all the anti-doping rules that govern international athletics
    (not only did they cheat,
    they invented fake evidence to try and discredit the whistleblower who
    exposed their cheating. Let’s hope Trump doesn’t copy Putin on that
    score as well.)

    Putin’s success in placing his chosen candidate in the Oval Office is
    so thorough that Trump and his allies are now parroting the false rumor
    about Ukrainian meddling—one that clearly benefits Russian interests—in
    their bogus impeachment defense. Reported The New York Times,

    The Republican defense of Mr. Trump became central to the impeachment
    proceedings when Fiona Hill, a respected Russia scholar and former
    senior White House official, added a harsh critique during testimony on Thursday [November 21]. She told some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders in Congress that they were repeating “a fictional narrative.” She said that it likely came from a disinformation campaign by Russian security services, which also propagated it.

    In a briefing that closely aligned with Dr. Hill’s testimony,
    American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in
    recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a years long campaign to
    essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the
    2016 election, according to three American officials. The briefing came
    as Republicans stepped up their defenses of Mr. Trump in the Ukraine
    affair.”

    This is from Ian Reifowitz for Daily Kos

    I do not get you guys. On weighing all the material I have seen there is no question about Russia attempts to interfere in our 2016 elections. To deny it is blind, subversive or something more dangerous and evil.

  • kevinzeese

    Re Ukraine interfering in the 2016 election, it was well documented before it became part of the partisan divide around impeachment over Ukraingate. Read this article and maybe you will recall the facts, if not, it links to the original sources: https://thegrayzone.com/2019/11/23/yes-ukraine-interference-in-the-2016-presidential-election/

    It sounds like you bought a lot of the Russiagate nonsense despite the lack of evidence from Mueller.

    Even the Dems do not believe it enough to impeach Trump over!

  • kevinzeese

    He cites many facts. He is one of the most consistently right foreign policy analysts.

    It is just that the facts are not consistent with your belief in Russiagate.

    Why aren’t the Dems impeaching Trump over Russiagate if it is true? They are not relying on it for impeachment because Mueller could not prove it was real.

    Russia had no impact on the 2016 election. Putin did not elect Trump. Trump was elected because Clinton was an elitist, corrupt candidate in an election year where people hated the elites. She was a candidate who has supported every war of the last 35 years at a time when voters are tired of never-ending wars. She lost the election because she was a lousy candidate. She lost to the worst Republican president in my lifetime — and there have been a lot of lousy Republican presidents.

  • PeterPaget

    Keeve what you and Margaret are arguing is preposterous in view of the known facts. I have been thinking this Pop Resistance site was valuable, but the article in question and your defenses of it and its propaganda is unforgivable. The facts are the facts and you should not try to spin them to meet your political agenda. All I read into that is you are Trump supporters or Putin/Russia supporters.

  • kevinzeese

    LOL. We are definitely not Trump supporters. He is the worst president of my lifetime, edging out Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But, we are also not going to promote for Democratic propaganda when tens of millions of dollars spent on investigating Russiagate failed to prove the theory. You should read that article again as it is filled with facts about how much was spent on social media, where it was spent, when it was spend, what it covered and that it was not spent by the Russian government but by a private corporation whose business was building social media lists it could sell.

    Read the article again. It seems like you so want to believe that Putin elected Trump so badly that you cannot understand pretty basic facts.

  • kevinzeese

    That sees to be true with Peter Paget. Moon of Alabama provides a lot of facts in his article but he is unable to see them. He does not want to let the facts get in the way of what he believes — and he believes in Russiagate.

  • voza0db

    Pete Pete! remove that bow tie. It’s blocking the flow of blood (O2/Energy/Nutrients) to your brain and it’s starting to show…

    I bet you’re a fan of Rachel!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1db5ee72355ebfb15d8c73f5589c67fe834beba27cbf7d237c08efa5421bd401.jpg

  • voza0db

    For the rest of the World he’s the BEST president ever elected! Quite odd…

  • PeterPaget

    Who to believe Kevin? I am looking for the truth and not to have some people try to pull the wool over my eyes or those of the public itslf. Most if not all US intelligence agencies have said Russia was involve in mucking with the 2016 elections. Fiona Hill, with experience and expertise of matters of Russia’s efforts to undermine America, under oath in a House committee hearing, in front of the nation on TV said she did not doubt Russia interfered with our 2016 election. And you and Margaret say a little known writer has all the right answers of the issue? Preposterous and unbelievable. He takes one Russia company, the IRA, a non-governmental entity, and says it had no impact on the 2016 elections. How does Moon know that. What about the Russian government itself. It is the entity being charged with interference and meddling with the election. I think you guys should admit your erroneous thinking or your biases or your own meddling with the truth.

  • PeterPaget

    who are you brother? Why not write something intelligent instead of personal,critical comments. Yes I like Rachel, but don’t watch much as I do not have cable or paid service. Answer me this, r u a nut or a bozo?

  • HerrinSchadenfreude

    No, most if not all US intelligence agencies have not, and they never did. There are only three agencies of the bunch that even have the independent data to have made such claims and the purview to even get a vote. The FBI, the NSA, and the CIA. Everyone else uses NSA data, so that Clinton claim of 17 agencies was ridiculous on its face. Furthermore this entire spun excuse was admitted to as a Clinton campaign story concocted by campaign higher ups in a book they wrote that’s been out for three years already. Mueller came up with nothing. Update your notes. It’s over.

  • HerrinSchadenfreude

    It’s not their beliefs. It’s the beliefs they download from establishment headquarters and then promise to make their own as if they came up with them themselves. isn’t that nice of them? It’s like when sheep do the location scouting for the cliff they’ll walk off of, saving the shepherd the trouble of convincing them.

  • voza0db

    No one.

    So… you start talking about writing something intelligent and end the talk failing miserably.

    Your comment about the Fake Russia Collusion, which apparently you are a believer, deserves no intelligent comment.

    For you this

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ad3b0905b15989a127936be39bd969f84fa78caa2c4c7d30093fa8af3e61ec1f.jpg

    is probably true!

  • Tony

    Trump also won the election because he campaigned on economic populism. (BTW, you can tell that the establishment Dems are not economic populists, as they sound like Republicans when the talk about domestic economics).
    Turns out Trump was a FAKE populist.

  • DonRice

    Right, Tony. Anyone who lived in the New York and New Jersey area as I did in the 1980’s and 1990’s knew he was fake and crook.