Thursday 12 December 2019

Revealed: The hashtags and events allegedly organised by Russians during 2016 election

Hillary Clinton: targeted. Photo: REUTERS
Hillary Clinton: targeted. Photo: REUTERS

Ben Riley-Smith

The full scale of alleged Russian election meddling has been revealed after 13 people were charged and their alleged crimes recounted in remarkable detail.

The Russians worked for the Internet Research Agency, a pro-Kremlin troll factory in St Petersburg, and were accused of using social media to undermine the 2016 American election.

A 37-page indictment produced by the team of Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation, gives the fullest ever account of alleged Russian interference.

It describes how Russian agents created hundreds of social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to influence the election.

Some accounts were created through US internet servers and made to look like they were run by American political activists rather than Russians, according to US prosecutors.

Posts were allegedly used to systematically undermine Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, and support Donald Trump, then the Republican candidate, as well as Bernie Sanders, Mrs Clinton's Democratic rival.

So effective were the accounts that some Americans were taken in and convinced to hold up anti-Clinton signs at rallies by the Russians, it is claimed.

The Russians were also able to stage pro-Trump rallies by promoting them on social media, offering to pay attendees and buying adverts, according to US prosecutors.

Rod Rosenstein, the US deputy attorney general, said that there was no suggestion the Americans targeted by the Russians knew who they were.

Mr Rosenstein also said the activity did not sway the outcome of the election, which saw Mr Trump narrowly beat Ms Clinton.

However he said that Russians had attempted to sow "discord" before the vote and warned that people "are not who they always appear to be on the internet".

On Twitter, Mr Trump said: 'Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!'

The Internet Research Agency, which has changed its title and address several times, is the name most often used to refer to the pro-Kremlin troll factory in St Petersburg.

The indictment against the 13 Russians and three Russian entities reveals the full scale of the alleged election meddling by the agency.

The agency had 80 employees targeting America and a monthly budget of €1m just before the vote, according to US prosecutors.

Russians allegedly used false names and stole real American social security numbers to interfere, creating fake identification cards.

Involvement in US politics started as early as 2014, according to US prosecutors, but came to a head as the November 2016 election approached.

Russians controlling social media account were allegedly told to create "political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements".

US prosecutors said the accounts posted messages including the hashtags #Trump2016 #TrumpTrain #MAGA #IWontProtectHillary and #Hillary4Prison.

They also claims Russians organised rallies such as "March for Trump" in June 25 2016, "Down With Hillary" in July 23 2016 and "Florida Goes Trump" in August 20 2016.

Some of these allegedly involved offering to pay Americans to attend, paying advertising and liaising with unwitting Trump campaign local staff. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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