The cesspool of “fake news” that overshadowed much of the 2016 presidential election got a major boost from Russia’s propaganda campaign against Hillary Clinton, two separate independent research teams have found. The Russian campaign was able to exploit obscure, right-wing U.S. websites to bring its disinformation campaign to the forefront of the campaign, experts said, warning that this trend will likely continue. “They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Together with colleagues Andrew Weisburd and J.M. Berger, Watts published a report on the propaganda campaign titled, “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.” The report shows how social media has been integral to the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign, with its paid human trolls, botnets and phony news websites.
Another group, PropOrNot, a nonpartisan group of researchers, released a report that was seen by The Washington Post ahead of publication. The report showed the scale of Russia’s disinformation campaign, pinpointing more than 200 websites that promoted Russian propaganda during the election, with more than 15 million American viewers. Bogus stories planted on Facebook as part of the propaganda campaign were seen more than 213 million times, the group’s report said. Alarmingly, some of the Russian-backed bogus news stories actually outperformed those of legitimate news organizations, the report said.