Kremlin-linked groups are hiding out on social media to sow division in 2020, researcher says

Russia’s interference in U.S. elections did not stop in 2016, according to a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A report out Thursday from researcher and professor Young Mie Kim shows Kremlin-linked groups are in our Facebook and Instagram feeds in 2020.

In 2016, her research showed evidence of Russian groups buying advertisements on Facebook that aimed to suppress voters by discouraging turnout, lying about election details, bashing certain candidates and promoting third-party candidates.

Back then, these foreign actors made up their own groups, which Kim tracked through ad metadata, and some where difficult to differentiate from a domestic-based organization.

“Defend the Second, that was like a gun group,” Kim said. “No such a group existed here, but it sounds like a gun advocacy group.”

This election cycle they are taking on the look of groups already in the States, and no type of group is off limits. Kim found ads targeting multiple demographics and across the political spectrum.

“I think it’s a pretty bold strategy given the tech platforms’ transparency measures are a lot more heightened then they were before,” she said.

For voters, telling the difference between a domestic and foreign ad without Kim’s expertise and tools is difficult. Kim said that’s not the full solution.

“We can’t just blame voters, like, ‘You should just be better educated, and you should learn. You should be more media literate,’” she said. “Public education and media literacy is very important, however that alone is not going to solve that problem. There must be some multilevel solutions.”

So far, though the country has known about this problem for four years, hardly anything has changed.

“Rome is burning, but people are just watching it” Kim said. “And nobody knows what to do with it.”