Cross-Platform State Propaganda: Russian Trolls on Twitter and YouTube during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Yevgeniy Golovchenko, Cody Buntain, Gregory Eady, Megan A. Brown, Joshua A. Tucker

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    This paper investigates online propaganda strategies of the Internet Research Agency (IRA)—Russian “trolls”—during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. We assess claims that the IRA sought either to (1) support Donald Trump or (2) sow discord among the U.S. public by analyzing hyperlinks contained in 108,781 IRA tweets. Our results show that although IRA accounts promoted links to both sides of the ideological spectrum, “conservative” trolls were more active than “liberal” ones. The IRA also shared content across social media platforms, particularly YouTube—the second-most linked destination among IRA tweets. Although overall news content shared by trolls leaned moderate to conservative, we find troll accounts on both sides of the ideological spectrum, and these accounts maintain their political alignment. Links to YouTube videos were decidedly conservative, however. While mixed, this evidence is consistent with the IRA’s supporting the Republican campaign, but the IRA’s strategy was multifaceted, with an ideological division of labor among accounts. We contextualize these results as consistent with a pre-propaganda strategy. This work demonstrates the need to view political communication in the context of the broader media ecology, as governments exploit the interconnected information ecosystem to pursue covert propaganda strategies.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)357-389
    Number of pages33
    JournalInternational Journal of Press/Politics
    Volume25
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

    Keywords

    • Internet Research Agency
    • Twitter
    • YouTube
    • foreign intervention
    • propaganda
    • social media

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Communication
    • Sociology and Political Science

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