It’s not just Facebook: Countering Russia’s social media offensive

It’s not just Facebook: Countering Russia’s social media offensive

The Russia connectionIt’s not just Facebook: Countering Russia’s social media offensive


By Bradley Hanlon


Published 17 April 2018

Russian influence operations exploit the vulnerabilities of social media platforms to disseminate false narratives and amplify divisive content in order to undermine democracies, divide societies, and weaken Western alliances. In conducting these operations, the Kremlin employs a variety of tools across the social media space, including fake accounts/personas, political advertisements, bot networks, and traditional propaganda outlets. Additionally, Russian influence operations utilize a range of social media platforms, each with a different role, to distract public discussion, foment social unrest, and muddle the truth.



Russian influence operations exploit the vulnerabilities of social media platforms to disseminate false narratives and amplify divisive content in order to undermine democracies, divide societies, and weaken Western alliances. In conducting these operations, the Kremlin employs a variety of tools across the social media space, including fake accounts/personas, political advertisements, bot networks, and traditional propaganda outlets. Additionally, Russian influence operations utilize a range of social media platforms, each with a different role, to distract public discussion, foment social unrest, and muddle the truth.


In order to successfully counter the Kremlin’s online offensive, Western policymakers will need to understand and address Moscow’s use of the social media ecosystem as a whole. Further, politicians will need to partner with the private sector and civil society organizations to help construct effective, sustainable, and forward-looking responses to Russian influence efforts.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill this week following the recent exposure of his company’s failures to protect up to 87 million Facebook users’ data.[1] Facebook has been at the center of a whirlwind of revelations regarding the Kremlin’s manipulation of social media since the site first announced that it had shut-down several hundred Kremlin-linked accounts in September 2017.[2] Facebook announced last week that it deleted an additional 135 Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as 138 pages, linked to Kremlin influence efforts.[3] We have also learned that Russian trolls used the social media site to create events that reached over 300,000 Americans.[4] The House Intelligence Committee last fall revealed a slew of Kremlin-linked political ads that were published on Facebook in an attempt to exacerbate divisions in American society.[5] Investigations into the Russian cooptation of Facebook and Twitter have unveiled a network of social media influence efforts operating at the Kremlin’s behest. These efforts utilize a range of social media platforms to dispense Kremlin narratives and sow division and discord abroad.