Manufacturing rage: The Russian Internet Research Agency’s political astroturfing on social media

  • Ahmed Al-Rawi Simon Fraser University
  • Anis Rahman Simon Fraser University

Abstract

This paper examines social media ads purchased by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). Using a public dataset, we employ a mixed method to analyze the thematic and strategic patterns of these ads. Due to Facebook and Instagram’s promotional features, IRA managed to microtarget audiences mostly located in the United States fitting its messages to suit the audiences’ political, racial, gendered, and in some cases religious backgrounds. The findings reveal the divisive nature and topics that are dominant in the dataset including: race, immigration, and police brutality. By expanding on the theoretical conceptualization of astroturfing strategy that focuses on carefully concealing the identity and intention of actors behind social media activities, we argue that IRA has added political astroturfing as a powerful tool at a low cost contributing to the broader Russian geopolitical disinformation campaign strategies. The IRA made use of the business model of Facebook and Instagram in an attempt to further divide its targeted audiences and by highlighting mostly negative issues with a potential goal of fuelling political rage.

Published
2020-08-16
How to Cite
Al-Rawi, A., & Rahman, A. (2020). Manufacturing rage: The Russian Internet Research Agency’s political astroturfing on social media . First Monday, 25(9). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v25i9.10801