On Friday, the Justice Department's special counsel announced the indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for an alleged scheme to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and sow discord.
Russian operatives, according to the indictment, began to track and study groups on social media sites four years ago. The operatives allegedly began tracking metrics of groups on Facebook, paying attention to details like the number of comments and responses. The employees hired to do the work were referred to as specialists, and were divided into day-shift and night-shift hours. They were instructed, according to the indictment, to make posts in accordance with the appropriate U.S. time zone.
The indictment goes on to say the specialists were instructed to write about topics on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram specifically related to U.S. foreign policy and economic issues. These posts were to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”
The operatives allegedly created hundreds of social media accounts and used them to create fictitious personas on social media sites, posing as everything from local Trump campaign supporters to Black Lives Matter activists. By 2016, the size of many of these groups, according to the indictment, had amassed hundreds of thousands of online followers.
Facebook has not responded directly to this indictment, but during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last fall, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said they discovered fake accounts were used to place ads on its platforms. He went on to say that content reached millions of Americans over a two-year period. Moving forward, Stretch says they’re making changes, like adding more ad reviewers and security engineers.