In 2014 the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St Petersburg was building a digital arsenal for the pure purpose of taking on US politics. The word is that the IRA had stolen identities of real Americans. Together with in depth studies of social media behaviours and demographics showing what would achieve specific results and reactions Russia was poised for attack. The mission was to literally and virtually rile up Americans by talking politics online.
Two members of the IRA are said to have travelled to the US on a fact finding tour of nine states in order to gain greater insight into US politics. During this time the IRA based in Russia started the process of posing as American volunteers thereby gathering intel on effectively targeting voters. Russian intelligence was instructed to aim for the “purple states” as race is “tighter” there.
Fake American personas at desks in St Petersburg took the stage. Russian operatives are alleged to have orchestrated both legal and illegal on the ground demonstrations and protests across the US. IRA specialists allegedly used stolen US identities for posting social content, but some of those same identities would be used to setup PayPal accounts.
In 2016, as the US elections approached, IRA operations gained momentum. Rumour has it that the IRA had a million dollar budget for social media advertising alone. The objective was to go viral by creating and maintaining an atmosphere of division and anger. The indictment reads that Moscow’s only mission was to promote instability in America through swaying votes where they can or persuading others not to vote at all.
According to prosecutors, operatives refer to themselves and each other as “specialists”. Russian IRA specialists worked around the clock shifts ensuring that social posts ran according to the various time zones. When they weren't creating content and posting, they were learning through statistics, analytics, and viral success. By understanding the value of retweets they were able to maximise their share of voice in the online space.
Court documents state that the IRA took extreme measures to cover their tracks. The obvious move and key factor was hiding that Russia was the source and location of content, posts, and advertising. The IRA used several VPNs to route their operations via computers in the United States. They are said to have a list of over 100 Americans whom The Kremlin contacted to mobilise and assist with real world efforts to destabilise America. Apparently none of these individuals are aware that they are involved in a huge campaign that looks to be ongoing.