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Did Russian disinformation on social media work?

Apparently not? Maybe they should re-run the test using CNN, CNBC and FOX news...haha.


Does Twitter Disinformation Even Work?

A study of Russian trolls finds they accomplished zip in the 2016 election.

By The Editorial Board, WSJ

Jan. 11, 2023 6:35 pm ET



One theme from the internal Twitter files being released by Elon Musk is the government’s gnawing fear that armies of foreign trolls and bots might be changing real people’s opinions. After Twitter said it was investigating false claims circulating in 2020 of a communications blackout in Washington, D.C., the FBI reached out to ask if the tweets might be “driven by foreign-controlled bots.”


The answer in that case was no, Twitter replied. The #dcblackout campaign was “a small-scale domestic troll effort,” without “a significant bot or foreign angle.” Vladimir Putin does try to sow unrest this way, but how much can this nonsense even accomplish? Less than Mr. Putin imagines and the FBI fears, or at least that’s the way we read a paper out Monday in the journal Nature Communications.


The study focuses on the 2016 election and uses “longitudinal survey data” that’s linked to the respondents’ Twitter feeds. Its six authors, three of whom hail from New York University, find that “exposure to Russian disinformation accounts was heavily concentrated: only 1% of users accounted for 70% of exposures.” Also, Mr. Putin’s bots were “eclipsed by content from domestic news media and politicians.” During the final month of the campaign, an average user was potentially exposed to four posts per day by Russian bots, compared with 106 by national news sites and 35 by politicians.


Exposure to these bots “was concentrated among those who identify as highly partisan Republicans.” If the theory is that Mr. Putin wanted to help elect Donald Trump, that looks like a pretty ineffective way to go about it. In the end, the authors find “no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.”


Twitter is full of unreliable information, and caveat reader is a phrase to keep in mind when trawling social media. In 2018 Twitter notified 1.4 million users that they had interacted with 3,841 accounts linked to Russian propagandists. The Nature Communications paper estimates that “at least 32 million” Twitter users in the U.S. “were potentially exposed to posts from Russia-sponsored accounts in the eight months leading up to the 2016 election.”


Those numbers sound large, but how deeply are people really influenced by seeing some bad Russian memes amid the rest of Twitter’s rumor, invective and inanity? Maybe the truth is that Mr. Putin’s trolls are shouting into the hurricane like everybody else.

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