Russia’s Internet Research Agency operated a vast network of accounts on Instagram that sought to infiltrate American identity groups, harden ideological divides and sow distrust in the American political system.
Much of the group’s activity was concentrated among several dozen large accounts. …Many of the group’s accounts targeted specific identity groups, including African-Americans, gun-rights supporters and anti-immigration activists.
…In total, posts from Instagram accounts linked to the I.R.A. received [at least] 185 million likes during the two-year period reviewed.
…Many of the Russian posts focused on developing audiences among specific American identity groups, which could then be used to target them with content and advertising later on.
……These merchandise sales most likely were not lucrative for the I.R.A. Instead, researchers suggested, selling merchandise had two other benefits: first, it allowed Russians to collect names, addresses and other personal information from users; second, it allowed them to identify strong supporters of a cause, who could then be targeted with advertisements.
…Several of the I.R.A.’s most popular Instagram accounts focused on African-American themes and interests. One image, posted to the @blackstagram_ account in June 2017, showed a series of women’s legs, with skin tones ranging from light to dark. The caption read, “All the tones are nude! Get over it!” It received more than 250,000 likes and more than 6,000 comments.
…Another image, posted to an account called @army_of_jesus, encouraged users to “like if you believe,” and “keep scrolling if you don’t.” The account, which originally shared Kermit the Frog memes and jokes from “The Simpsons,” was later repurposed to target conservative Christians [after a following was built].
…In the days leading up to the 2016 election, some I.R.A.-linked Instagram accounts were used to seed doubts about the integrity of the election, and to accuse Democrats of trying to rig the vote in their favor.