New York : A coordinated effort on Twitter to influence the upcoming US presidential election aims to sow distrust, exacerbate political divisions and undermine confidence in American democracy, according to a new report from non-profit RAND Corporation.
The tactics the researchers observed on Twitter mirror Russia’s longstanding strategy of playing off existing partisan tensions to create a sense of disunity among US voters, and they also further Russia’s interests, claimed the report.
The researchers, however, could not definitively attribute this year’s election interference to a specific actor.
“Social media has made it cheaper and easier for foreign actors to mount increasingly sophisticated attacks on our democracy and our political discourse,” said William Marcellino, the study’s lead author and a social and behavioural scientist at RAND.
“Many Americans are immersed in online conversations that have been shaped artificially, and that are giving them a false and distorted picture of the world.”
The RAND report is the second of a four-part series intended to help policymakers and the public understand – and mitigate – the threat of online foreign interference in national, state and local elections.
The first report concluded that the main goal of foreign interference is to paralyse the American political process by driving people to extreme positions that make it ever more difficult to reach consensus.
The latest study used software tools developed by RAND to analyse a very large dataset of 2.2 million tweets from 630,391 unique Twitter accounts collected between January 1 and May 6.
The analysis found that trolls — fake personas that spread hyper-partisan themes — and super-connectors, which are highly networked accounts, overwhelmingly cluster in certain Twitter communities engaged in political conversations around the election.
This orchestrated activity may have worked in favour of President Donald Trump, and against the candidacy of Joe Biden, according to the report.