US midterms: Efforts of Russian “right trolls” ramped up in run-up to election

By Ellen Daniel

Tomorrow, Americans will go to the polls for the 2018 midterm elections, with seats in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate contested.

By now, there is compelling evidence for Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, from the spread of propaganda and disinformation to hacking, influencing the election process, with the extend of this being investigated in  Robert Mueller’s on-going investigation.

With the results of the US midterms having the potential to considerably impact the remainder of Trump’s presidency, fears over the threat of Russian involvement are rife, especially after the revelation that Russian intelligence service GRU was behind a series of cyberattacks.

For the past several months, threat intelligence company Recorded Future has been researching Russian cyber operations in the run-up to the 2018 US midterm elections. The organisation has identified a group of “right trolls,” largely supportive of President Trump and far right of American political discourse.

The research has found that Russian social media operations continue in 2018, as do Russian attempts to influence public discourse surrounding the 2018 US midterm elections, to explicitly advocating for specific candidates and policies.

The Russian “right trolls” influencing the US midterms

A major trend uncovered by the research is the propagation of “hyper partisan, or sharply polarized perspectives on legitimate news stories”, also known as “fake news”. The spread of false information disseminating verifiably false information still occurs, but has been largely supplemented by extremely biased or opinionated content.

Worryingly, in the last two weeks, Recorded Future has seen a shift in the tactics used to “appear more real and legitimate”. In other words, the efforts of “right trolls” may have been ramped up in the run-up to the miderms.

This suggests that, despite the news that Twitter had removed thousands of bot accounts “discouraging voters”, Russian influence across social media is still rife.

Priscilla Moriuchi, Director of Strategic Threat Development at Recorded Future explains that Russian operations aimed at influencing politics has expanded since 2016, and could have an impact on the upcoming US midterms:

“While we believe that we have identified only a portion of the full scale of the operation, important trends have emerged that may be applicable to larger Russian operations targeting the United States. In particular, that Russian influence operations have continued and evolved since 2016 and that the content propagated by these operations has shifted focus from verifiably false information (or “fake news”) to hyper partisan perspectives.”

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