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Indicted Russian Agency Had 4,334 Facebook, Instagram, Twitter Accounts; Targeted Energy Industry as Well as Election
By Terence P. Jeffrey

The Internet Research Agency, the Russian organization indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for meddling in the U.S. presidential election, controlled 4,334 accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, according to information provided by Facebook and Twitter to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“Between 2015 and 2017, there were an estimated 4,334 IRA accounts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,” the committee’s majority staff said in a report published in March.

Facebook (which owns Instagram) and Twitter have both been working to detect all IRA-linked accounts and remove them.

“We’ll keep fighting bad actors on Facebook and we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to constantly improve safety on the platform,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNSNews.com.

The committee report describes IRA as a company “established by the Russian government for the purpose of deceptively using various social and traditional media platforms to advance Russian propaganda.”

The committee focused on social media activities conducted by IRA as part of the Russian government’s strategy to limit the development of oil and gas resources in the United States.

“This report reveals that Russian agents created and spread propaganda on U.S. social media platforms in an obvious attempt to influence the U.S. energy market,” said House Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R.-Texas).

In February, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging IRA and some of the Russian individuals who worked with it of federal crimes related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant Organization began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” said Mueller’s indictment.

“Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences,” said the indictment. “These groups and pages, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by Defendants.

“Defendants also used stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on organization-controlled social media accounts,” the indictment said. “Over time, these social media accounts became defendants’ means to reach significant numbers of Americans for purposes of interfering with the U.S. political system, including the presidential election of 2016.”

Mueller’s indictment alleges: “Defendants conspired to obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit, including by making expenditures in connection with the 2016 U.S. presidential election without proper regulatory disclosure; failing to register as foreign agents carrying out political activities within the United States; and obtaining visas through false and fraudulent statements.”

The report published by the House Science committee concludes that the same Russian organization used its social media presence to attack the U.S. energy industry.

In recent years—with the development of fracking and horizontal drilling—U.S. oil and gas production has grown rapidly, making the United States and Russia rivals in the global energy market.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States ranked No. 1 in the world in the production of natural gas in 2015, while Russia ranked No. 2. Similarly, Russia ranked No. 1 in the production of crude oil in 2016, while Saudi Arabia ranked No. 2 and the United States ranked No. 3.

U.S. energy exports surged 27 percent and hit a record high in 2017, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration.

The Science committee report concluded that Russia has both economic and political incentives for reducing U.S. energy production.

“Russia has a significant interest in disrupting U.S. energy markets and influencing domestic energy policy,” the report said. “American energy is booming. America’s emergence as a global energy exporter presents a significant threat to Russian energy interests. Such competition reduces the revenue and influence generated by Russian energy exports. This adversely affects the Kremlin’s ability to leverage Eastern Europe’s reliance on their energy and their ability to carry out their geopolitical agenda. The surge of America’s energy into the global marketplace heightens the Kremlin’s desire to eliminate or mitigate the American energy threat and to do so by influencing social media users, American voters, and public officials.”

The Russians, the report said, used the Internet Research Agency to advance this aim.

“Russia exploited American social media as part of its concerted efforts to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy,” the report found. “The IRA targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.”

To illustrate this point, the committee published examples of Facebook and Instagram postings and Tweets put out by IRA.

The Russian-controlled Internet Research Agency made this posting on a Facebook page called “Born Liberal” and Instagram account called “bornliberal,” according to the House Science committee report:

Multiple IRA Facebook postings, for example, attacked the Dakota Access Pipeline, which opened in June 2017 and connects the Bakken oil field in North Dakota with Illinois. The postings were hosted on IRA-controlled Facebook pages called “Born Liberal,” “Blacktivist,” and “Native Americans United.”

The Russian-controlled Internet Research Agency made this posting on a Facebook page called “Blacktivist,” according to the House Science committee report:

“Born Liberal” Facebook postings included in the report also attacked U.S. oil companies and warned of climate change.

One of IRA’s “Born Liberal” Facebook posting released by the committee said: “The biggest oil companies made 135 billion in profit last year. Why in the world are we giving them at least 10 billion in subsidies while we are closing public schools?”

The posting was illustrated with a cartoon of Uncle Sam–lying on the floor and injecting himself in the arm with a syringe full of crude oil.

The Russian-controlled Internet Research Agency made this posting on a Facebook called “Born Liberal” and an Instagram account called “bornliberal,” according to the House Science committee report:

Another “Born Liberal” posting sarcastically said: “Record heat waves, historic droughts, apocalyptic fires. But climate change isn’t real—just ignore it, keep shopping and watching TV.”

The Russian-controlled Internet Research Agency made this posting on a Facebook called “Born Liberal” and an Instagram account called “bornliberal,” according to the House Science committee report:

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter provided the committee with information on which the report is based.

“The committee received and reviewed the companies’ produced documents for evidence of Russian influence,” said the report. “Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were able to identify Russian accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company based in Saint Petersburg established by the Russian government for the purpose of deceptively using various social and traditional media platforms to advance Russian propaganda. The information received from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram shows that Russian agents indeed sought to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy by exploiting American social media platforms.”

In addition to determining that IRA controlled 4,334 Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, the committee also discovered that IRA-controlled accounts engaged in more than 9,000 tweets and posts aimed at the U.S. energy industry.

“Between 2015 and 2017, there were an estimated 9,097 Russian posts or tweets regarding U.S. energy policy or a current energy event on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,” said the report.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have pursued a policy of removing accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency.

On Tuesday, in fact, Facebook announced that it had removed an additional 70 Facebook accounts, 65 Instagram accounts, and 138 Facebook pages controlled by IRA that primarily targeted Russian-speaking audiences, but also included target audiences in, among other places, Brazil and Turkey.

“We took down a coordinated network of more than 270 inauthentic pages and accounts controlled by Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA), targeting people in Russia and Russian-speakers from other countries such as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNSNews.com.

“Last fall, we shut down approximately 470 accounts and pages in the U.S. that were identified by our dedicated security team,” the spokesperson said. “These accounts and pages were affiliated with one another and came from the Internet Research Agency.”

“We just completed a thorough investigation to identify these pages and profiles,” the spokesperson said. “This is hard, and we take our responsibility to our community extremely seriously–both to stop malicious actors, and to avoid sweeping up innocent users when we do so. We use a rigorous process to identify these malicious pages, and we’re acting as soon as our analysis is complete. We’ve removed the IRA-controlled pages and we’re committed to finding any malicious activity on our platform.”

“We expect we might find more of these pages, and if we do, we will take them down too,” the spokesperson said. “We’ll keep fighting bad actors on Facebook and we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to constantly improve safety on the platform.”

In January, Twitter provided a written report to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism updating testimony that had been given by its general counsel last October.

“In the fall, we reported that we had found 2,752 IRA-linked accounts,” said the Twitter report. “We noted that this was an active area of inquiry and that we planned to update the committee as we continued the analysis. Through that continued review, we have identified 1,062 more IRA-linked accounts during the relevant period, for a total of 3,814 accounts.”

“All 3,804 IRA-linked accounts were suspended for Terms of Service violations,” said the Twitter report, “and all but a few compromised accounts that have subsequently been restored to their legitimate account owners remain suspended.”

In reference to these Twitter accounts, the House Science Committee noted that “more than four percent of all IRA tweets were related to energy or environmental issues, a significant portion of content when compared to the eight percent of IRA tweets that were related to the U.S. election.”

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