Russian political propaganda spread across Facebook, Twitter, and Google

Google offices in King's Cross, London.
Image: Jeff Blackler/REX/Shutterstock

Just like any internet-minded person looking to build their #PersonalBrand, it seems Russia-linked groups targeted multiple platforms in their bid to influence the 2016 presidential election.

You might say that Russian-linked actors seem to have built their own “web” of influence. Haha. 

A Washington Post article published on Monday brings these connections into sharper focus. Before the election, according to the article, Google discovered that “tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google’s many products, which include YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network.” 

Toward the end of the article, we learn that Google used data from Twitter to find those Russia-linked ads. Google found links between Russian Twitter accounts and accounts used to buy ads on Google products. 

This sounds familiar, in that The New York Times recently reported that “Twitter said it had discovered more than 200 accounts with links to the Russia-controlled pages Facebook had found.”

It seems at least somewhat logical to conclude that the same Russia-linked groups constructed various brands by buying ads on Google platforms, building Facebook pages, and sending flurries of tweets to push propaganda designed to increase animosity toward Hillary Clinton, heighten racial tension in the U.S., and increase political strife. 

Maybe that’s true to an extent, but The Washington Post report made it clear that the Russia-linked ads on Google don’t appear to have been bought by the same Russia-linked group that bought ads on Facebook, a group known as the Internet Research Agency. 

Even so, we’re starting to see how Russia-linked propaganda efforts were conscious of spreading their messages on multiple platforms.

A recent example comes by way of The Daily Beast, which reported on Sunday that Russia “recruited” two black YouTubers to spread anti-Clinton propaganda aimed at linking her to racism. 

“Williams and Kalvin” as the duo was known, may have been dubbed “YouTubers,” but they built their following across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as well. 

Facebook took down their page in August, according to The Daily Beast, and that’s when Twitter suspended their account as well. Their YouTube account — “The Word of Truth” — was up until just minutes ago, but has now “been terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.” The duo hadn’t uploaded a video in a couple months. 

For what it’s worth, it seems pretty much nobody watched these videos, at least on YouTube. A bunch of them had fewer than 10 views, which stands in stark contrast to the reported 48,000 fans their Facebook page had when it was shut down.

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