Twitter accounts operated by Russian propagandists reportedly deflected negative press coverage about President Donald Trump during the 2016 election and redirected the media narrative against his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On Nov. 9, journalistic analysis of nearly 400 accounts operated by Russian agents during the 2016 election found that they would swiftly react to damaging headlines about Trump by urging other social media users to pay attention to unflattering stories about Clinton, The Associated Press reports.
The analysis studied 36,210 tweets by 382 Kremlin-associated accounts sent out from August 2015 through November 2016. The study found that these accounts would often intensify their tweet output whenever controversial stories about Trump hit the news.
On Sept. 17, when Trump publicly acknowledged that former President Barack Obama was a U.S.-born citizen, several prominent Russian accounts quickly spread disinformation that Obama was born in Kenya or that Clinton herself had created the "birther" conspiracy.
On Oct. 7, The Washington Post reported that Trump had bragged about groping and kissing women without consent while on a hot mic in 2005.
"You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them," Trump said in the recording. "It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait."
The future president added: "And when you're a star, they let you do it ... Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything."
The analysis found that the Russian-linked accounts quickly issued tweets urging followers to ignore Trump's audio recording and instead focus on Clinton campaign emails that had been released the same day on WikiLeaks. Some accounts asserted that Clinton was a sexual assault enabler.
"MSM (the mainstream media) is at it again with Billy Bush recording ... What about telling Americans how Hillary defended a rapist and later laughed at his victim?" tweeted one Russian account.
On Oct. 31, the general counsels of Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian propagandists using their platforms during the 2016 election. Sean Edgett, acting general counsel for Twitter, disclosed that the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency had employees post 131,000 messages on its platform, The New York Times reports.
"The abuse of our platform to attempt state-sponsored manipulation of elections is a new challenge for us -- and one that we are determined to meet," Edgett said.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina stated that Russian agents using U.S. social media platforms to influence election narratives was a threat to American democracy.
"During the election, they were trying to create discord between Americans, most of it directed against Clinton," Graham said.
Twitter provided Congress with the handles of 2,752 accounts believed to be operated by Russian propagandists.