Research presented to the US Senate yesterday (17 December) said Russia engaged in a widespread propaganda campaign over the past five years using major social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

A report by the University of Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project and social network analysis company Graphika stated Russia’s Internet Research Agency had conducted an “extended attack” reaching “tens of millions of users” between 2013 and 2018. Some 30 million Instagram and Facebook users shared the Russian agency’s posts from 2015 to 2017 alone.

Activity began in 2013 on Twitter, “but quickly evolved into a multi-platform strategy” which were not halted even after the department “was caught interfering in the 2016 election”. The information was compiled using data from the social media companies involved.

Twitter API
The report was released as Twitter announced it could not rule out Chinese and Saudi Arabian state involvement in an attempt to reveal details of its users in November.

In a statement, the company said it discovered “unusual activity” relating to the API of one of its customer support forms; specifically “a large number of inquiries coming from individual IP addresses” located in China and Saudi Arabia.

“While we cannot confirm intent or attribution for certain, it is possible that some of these IP addresses may have ties to state-sponsored actors.”

The attack threatened to expose the country code of users’ phone numbers along with whether their account was currently locked by Twitter. The company’s online help pages explain an account may be locked if it “appears to be compromised or in violation” of Twitter’s terms of service.

Twitter emphasised no user information was compromised, adding it revealed the details in the interests of “full transparency”, and had informed law enforcement agencies and any users affected.