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Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, 2018

Photo by The White House

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

It's no secret that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin are hoping that President Donald Trump will defeat his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, in November — as they rightly view Trump as much more sympathetic to Russian interests. The Trump administration has already confirmed that they are intervening once again. And according to Facebook, Russian operatives are trying to manipulate U.S. voters this year on the social media platform just as they did during the 2016 presidential election.

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan reports Facebook announced that a St. Petersburg, Russia-based troll group that interfered in the 2016 election, the Internet Research Agency, is trying to interfere in this year's election as well. O'Sullivan notes that a "network of Facebook accounts and pages" that the social media platform removed was "set up to look and operate like a left-wing news outlet." Facebook removed the Russian troll pages after receiving a tip from the FBI.

"This is the first publicly available evidence that people connected to the Russian troll group, which is known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA), are using unwitting Americans in an attempt to meddle with the 2020 election and stir discord," O'Sullivan reports. "The operation seems to have been shut down before it could get much traction on Facebook or the rest of the internet."

The Internet Research Agency received close scrutiny from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation. And that investigation was still underway when the St. Petersburg-based group tried to interfere in the 2018 midterms. But O'Sullivan notes that the trolls' activities in 2018 were "halting and small" compared to 2016.

Facebook hired Graphika, a company specializing in social media analytics, to study the matter — and Ben Nimmo, who heads investigations at Graphika, told CNN: "This looks like an early-stage attempt to target left-wing audiences on a range of issues."

According to Nimmo, "The (U.S.) election wasn't the only focus, but it looks like the operation wanted to divide Democratic voters the same way the IRA tried in 2016."

Four years ago, Russian trolls who wanted to see Trump elected tried to turn Democratic voters against Hillary Clinton. Similarly, Russian trolls are now trying to dissuade Democrats from voting for Biden. One of the troll articles that came to Facebook's attention was from Peace Data — which claims to be a left-wing "news organization" — and was headlined "The Biden-Harris Ticket Encapsulates How the Western Left Will Give in to Right-Wing Populism."

Nathaniel Gleicher, director of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, told CNN Business that Russian trolls are "actively, aggressively and creatively trying to target the United States in the run-up to the (2020) election."


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