Research on Russian troll activity during the 2016 US presidential campaign largely focused on divisive partisan messaging. Here, we document the use of apolitical content—content that could counteract mobilization efforts and escape detection in future campaigns. We argue this resembled techniques used by autocratic regimes domestically, in “flooding” social media with entertainment content to distract from and displace mobilizing messaging.
Using automated text analysis and hand coding to construct a timeline of IRA messaging on Twitter, we find left-leaning trolls posted large volumes of entertainment content in their artificial liberal community and shifted away from political content late in the campaign. Simultaneously, conservative trolls were targeting their community with increases in political content. This suggests the use of apolitical content might be an overlooked strategy to selectively manipulate levels of attention to politics.
Russian trolls tried to distract voters with music tweets in 2016 | Cornell Chronicle
In a finding that has implications for the 2022 midterm elections, Cornell researchers found Russia tried to distract liberal voters during the 2016 presidential campaign with a seemingly innocent weapon - tweets about music and videos - taking a page from its domestic disinformation playbook.