Grow an audience in part through heartwarming, inspiring messages, and use that following to spread messages promoting division, distrust, and doubt.
…The quality of Russia’s work has been honed over several years and millions of social media posts. They have appeared on Instagram, Stitcher, Reddit, Google+, Tumblr, Medium, Vine, Meetup, and even Pokémon Go, demonstrating not only a nihilistic creativity, but also a ruthless efficiency in volume of production.
…Professional trolls don’t go on social media to antagonize liberals or belittle conservatives. They are not narrow minded, drunk or angry. …Your stereotypical trolls do exist on social media, but the amateurs aren’t a threat to Western democracy.
Professional trolls, on the other hand, are the tip of the spear in the new digital, ideological battleground. To combat the threat they pose, we must first understand them — and take them seriously.
…Professional trolls are good at their job. They have studied us. They understand how to harness our biases (and hashtags) for their own purposes. They know what pressure points to push and how best to drive us to distrust our neighbors. The professionals know you catch more flies with honey. They don’t go to social media looking for a fight; they go looking for new best friends. And they have found them.
Disinformation operations aren’t typically fake news or outright lies. Disinformation is most often simply spin. Spin is hard to spot and easy to believe, especially if you are already inclined to do so.
…As good marketers, professional trolls manipulate our emotions subtly.
…“My cousin is studying sociology in university. Last week she and her classmates polled over 1,000 conservative Christians. ‘What would you do if you discovered that your child was a homo sapiens?’ 55% said they would disown them and force them to leave their home.”
This tweet, which suggested conservative Christians are not only homophobic but also ignorant, was subtle enough to not feel overtly hateful, but was also aimed directly at multiple cultural stress points, driving a wedge at the point where religiosity and ideology meet.
…Melanie’s audience was made up of educated, urban, left-wing Americans harboring a touch of self-righteousness. She wasn’t selling her audience a candidate or a position — she was selling an emotion. Melanie was selling disgust. The Russians know that, in political warfare, disgust is a more powerful tool than anger. Anger drives people to the polls; disgust drives countries apart.
…Effective disinformation is embedded in an account you agree with. The professionals don’t push you away, they pull you toward them. While tweeting uplifting messages, …[they also] distributed messages consistent with past Russian disinformation. Importantly, they highlighted issues of race and gender inequality. …These tweets point to valid issues of concern …[but] they are framed [in a way which serves] Russia’s interests in undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions.
…These accounts also harness the goodwill they’ve built by engaging in these communities for specific political ends. …They attacked moderate politicians as a method of bolstering more polarizing candidates.
…They attack issues from both sides, attempting to drive mainstream viewpoints in polar and extreme directions.
…Russia strategically employed social media to build support on the right for Trump and lower voter turnout on the left for Clinton.
…Russia’s goals are to further widen existing divisions in the American public and decrease our faith and trust in institutions that help maintain a strong democracy. [Their aim is to] encourage us to vilify our neighbor and amplify our differences because, if we grow incapable of compromising, there can be no meaningful democracy.