The Russians tracked how well what they were posting was connecting with people. “In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites, the ORGANIZATION tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post,” the indictment reads. And in another spot: “Defendants and their coconspirators received and maintained metrics reports on certain group pages and individualized posts.”
This is not high-level spycraft. It is, rather, bread-and-butter audience development work. My guess here is that they simply looked at Facebook analytics. It’s one click in the Facebook interface to look at these numbers.
This is a good post from Alexis Madrigal pointing out something that many in the mainstream miss: what Russia was doing around the US elections was not particularly clever. They were just using freely-available tools in a socially-manipulative way. Many of their techniques are things Sarah and I have been teaching on the Interactive Journalism MA for years.
I was struck by a video I was showing to some other students this afternoon. It was of Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed talking about Russian misinformation campaigns, amongst other forms of intentional disinformation. Specialists knew about the Internet Research Agency and its work long before the election – but their reporting wasn’t taken seriously because it was “just social media”.
I wonder how different the story of the last two years would have been if they had been listened to more widely.