Part of Russia’s strategic aim to sow discord among the American electorate, its operators set up an organization called the Internet Research Agency. It would grow into “hundreds of employed individuals,” organized into separate departments: graphics, data analysis, search engine optimization, digital infrastructure maintenance, and budget finance, according to the Friday federal grand jury indictment.
From the start, the IRA “sought, in part, to conduct what it called ‘information warfare against the United States of America’ through fictitious U.S. personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media.”
All told, “more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the translator project,” a special department focusing on promoting Trump and Bernie Sanders while smearing Clinton on Facebook, its platform of choice. They produced a litany of ads designed to exploit the American politics. In one example, an arm-wrestling match between Jesus and Satan had the latter claiming, “If I win, Hillary wins” — to which Jesus replied, “Not if I can help it.” The ad told users to click Like “to help Jesus win.”
Another example showed how what happened on Facebook would eventually led to real-world consequences. At a series of rallies in Florida named “Florida Goes Trump,” the Russian operatives “used false” U.S. identities to contact1 the Trump campaign’s “local outreach” staffers. They also reached out to other pro-Trump groups and recruited volunteers to become “local coordinators” for the events. Then they “asked one U.S. person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform.” Both Americans did not know they were commissioned by the Russian operators.
The Russians would go on and recreate such scenes in New York and Pennsylvania.
1 A sample of communications between the IRA and a pro-Trump group:
Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.