How Russia Uses Social Media to Divide and Destabilize America (Race, Covid 19)

The USA is more divided and polarized today than at any other time in the last five decades.

A plethora of articles discloses how Russia is using social media to polarize and destabilize America. This is an attack on our national unity using misinformation, disinformation, fake news, “information laundering,” and “cyber propaganda.”

Typically, the Kremlin doesn’t create the controversies.  Instead, Russia uses its “troll farms,” fake accounts, bots, allied bloggers, and its Internet Research Agency to exploit the controversy.  They pour fuel on a fire that has already ignited. Russia has posted thousands of divisive articles, seen by millions, primarily on Race and Covid 19.

Russia considers America’s diversity and liberty as weaknesses.  The Kremlin uses our freedoms of speech and press to amplify discord and magnify dissent.

“Russian operatives created hundreds of fake personas on social media platforms and then posted thousands of advertisements and messages on important social and political issues. These efforts used inaccurate and misleading information in a coordinated campaign to manipulate public opinion and disrupt the political process. Eventually, these posts were viewed by millions of Americans.” (“Virtual Hatred: How Russia Tried to Start a Race War in the United States.”)

Russian Goals and Objectives

  • Undermine trust in established institutions (government, education, religion)
  • Increase polarization in the political arena (ideological purity)
  • Foster disaffection with the political system (fraud, stolen elections)
  • Manipulate elections (mail-in ballots, voter Id)
  • Increase racial discord (BLM, critical race theory, white nationalism)
  • Subvert confidence in public health
  • Neutralize America’s response to the pandemic (anti-vaxxer, anti-maskers, conspiracy theories)
  • Cripple law enforcement (defund, decriminalize, discredit police)
  • Exploit anarchy and chaos (Antifa)
  • Magnify parochial regionalism (red/blue, urban/rural)
  • Destroy the concept of objective, verifiable facts

“Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy”
               “The Kremlin has honed its arsenal of malign influence operations at home and taken it global. And while the methods used may differ across countries, the goals are the same: sow distrust and confusion, promote radical voices on divisive political issues, and gain economic leverage, all while eroding support for the democratic process and  institutions.”
               “Today, the Kremlin’s malign influence operations employ state and non-state resources to achieve their ends, including the security services, television stations and pseudo news agencies, social media and internet trolls, public and private companies, organized crime groups, think tanks and special foundations, and social and religious groups. These efforts have “weaponized” four spheres of activity: traditional and social media, ideology and culture, crime and corruption, and energy. Disinformation campaigns are used to discredit politicians and democratic institutions like elections and independent media.” (“Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy,” Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Staff Report, Jan 10, 2018) 

“The Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It.”
“The Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) goal was two-fold: Grow an audience in part through heartwarming, inspiring messages, and use that following to spread messages promoting division, distrust, and doubt.”
Disinformation operations aren’t typically fake news or outright lies. Disinformation is most often simply spin. Spin is hard to spot and easy to believe, especially if you are already inclined to do so…”
“The quality of Russia’s work has been honed over several years and millions of social media posts. They have appeared on Instagram, Stitcher, Reddit, Google, Tumblr, Medium, Vine, Meetup, and even Pokémon Go, demonstrating not only a nihilistic creativity, but also a ruthless efficiency in volume of production. The IRA has been called a troll farm,” but they are undoubtedly a factory.” (“The Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It,” Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren, Rolling Stone Magazine, Nov 25, 2019.)

Kremlin Tactics and Methods

  • Promote radical positions on both sides of the same issue
  • Foster and expand conspiracy theories
  • Push agendas of the far right and far left
  • “Launder information” to hide the true Russian source
  • Flood social media with millions of posts containing disinformation
  • Discredit politicians

Social Media Weaponization: The Biohazard of Russian Disinformation Campaigns.”
“Russia’s modus operandi for social media exploitation is predictable: Identify a contentious issue, employ bots and trolls on various social media platforms to spread divisive rhetoric, amplify debates, and promote discord.” (“Social Media Weaponization: The Biohazard of Russian Disinformation Campaigns,” Sarah Gamberini, Joint Force Quarterly, National Defense University, Nov 19, 2020)

Key Topics and Issues

  • Race (BLM, Confederate symbols, police shootings, reparations)
  • Gun rights/ gun control
  • Immigration
  • Regionalism
  • LGBT rights/religious freedom
  • Defund the police
  • Decriminalize offenses
  • Neutralize America’s response to Covid 19

“Virtual Hatred: How Russia Tried to Start a Race War in the United States.”

“The Internet Research Agency was directed to “aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population.” Accordingly, they used social media “to inflame passions on a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate. To maximize conflict, messages were often drafted from opposing perspectives.”
“But Russia’s propaganda campaign was not limited to race—it addressed ethnicity, religion, and national origin. Russian messages targeted immigration, border policies, law enforcement, crime, and LGBT rights. Russia sought to inject divisions within every major inflection point in American culture and politics.” (“Virtual Hatred: How Russia Tried to Start a Race War in the United States,” William J. Aceves, Michigan Journal of Race and Law, Vol. 24:177 (2019))

Chief Target – Race

“Virtual Hatred: How Russia Tried to Start a Race War in the United States.”
“The Russian government believed race was an issue that could divide the American public. And, to a great extent, it was correct. America’s longstanding struggle with racial inequality and social injustice offered Russia a receptive audience.” (“Virtual Hatred: How Russia Tried to Start a Race War in the United States,” William J. Aceves, Michigan Journal of Race and Law, Vol. 24:177 (2019))

“Social Media Weaponization: The Biohazard of Russian Disinformation Campaigns.”
“In 2019, leaked documents revealed that Russia considered targeting one of America’s deepest and oldest fault lines as a nation: race.” 
“More recently Russia has exploited the Black Lives Matter movement. . .  It is important to note that Russia’s goal is rarely to promote one side of any issue, but to stir the pot and enflame tensions—U.S. self-destruction would be Russia’s ideal victory. (“Social Media Weaponization: The Biohazard of Russian Disinformation Campaigns,” Sarah Gamberini, Joint Force Quarterly, National Defense University, Nov 19, 2020.)

“Russia’s disinformation campaigns are targeting African Americans
“During this summer’s historic Black Live Matter protests across the United States, social media platforms have been rife with disinformation. That’s not a coincidence. Since 2016, Russian disinformation campaigns have focused particularly on race and social issues related to African Americans, exploiting the fact that race remains a highly volatile area in U.S. politics.”
“In 2018, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that Russian information operatives were mainly targeting African Americans. This past April, a CNN investigation discovered Russian troll farms in Ghana and Nigeria that employed African nationals to post content emphasizing U.S. racial divisions…. House Intelligence Committee Chairman … said that “the potential use of continental cutouts” to obscure Russia’s involvement “represents new and inventive ways to cover their tracks and evade detection.”


“Most of the visual content revolved around the plight of African Americans. On the one hand, positive images and videos featured stories about black excellence and achievements that helped further scientific, technological and social progress. On the other, negative visuals typically showed incidents of police brutality or white Americans doing something racist. In other words, these malicious accounts tweeted a mixture of sentiments to cultivate followers and manipulate U.S. narratives about race, racial tensions and police conduct.” (“Russia’s disinformation campaigns are targeting African Americans,” Chonlawit Sirikupt and Michel Slazer, Washington Post, Oct 8, 2019)

“Senate Report: Russians Used Social Media Mostly to Target Race,”
“Using Facebook pages, Instagram content and Twitter posts, Russian information operatives working for the Internet Research Agency had an “overwhelming operational emphasis on race … no single group of Americans was targeted … more than African Americans…. [T]he IRA sought to focus on socially divisive issues like race to pit Americans against one another.” (“Senate Report: Russians Used Social Media Mostly to Target Race,” NPR, Oct 8, 2019.)

Major Target – Public Health Issues (Covid 19)

“Social Media Weaponization: The Biohazard of Russian Disinformation Campaigns.
Public health is another area of acute debate in the United States, and one that is ideal for Russian targeting…. Often, people are more trusting of health advice from friends, family, or influencers they trust than impersonal institutions…. This makes public health issues such as COVID-19 an ideal target for Russian social media weaponization. It is divisive and emotional and could realistically physically weaken the United States.” (“Social Media Weaponization: The Biohazard of Russian Disinformation Campaigns,” Sarah Gamberini, Joint Force Quarterly, National Defense University, Nov 19, 2020.)

Russian Disinformation Campaign Aims to Undermine Confidence in Pfizer, Other Covid-19 Vaccines
“Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Western vaccines, using online publications that in recent months have questioned the vaccines’ development and safety, U.S. officials said.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-91.png


“An official with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which monitors foreign disinformation efforts, identified publications that he said have served as fronts for Russian intelligence.”
“The foreign efforts to sow doubts about the vaccine exploit deep-seated anxieties about the efficacy and side effects of vaccines that were already prevalent in some communities in the U.S. and internationally. Concern about side effects is a major reason for vaccine hesitancy.” (“Russian Disinformation Campaign Aims to Undermine Confidence in Pfizer, Other Covid-19 Vaccines,”  Michael R. Gordon  and Dustin Volz, Wall Street Journal, Mar 7, 2021.)

“Russia disinformation campaigns are trying to sow distrust of COVID vaccines”
“Russian propagandists and Internet trolls are increasingly targeting companies with disinformation campaigns that are intended to damage their corporate reputations and stir public animosity.” 
“Additionally, the report discovered that Russian troll outlets are spreading conspiracy theories on social media that are intended to sow doubt about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.” (“Russia disinformation campaigns are trying to sow distrust of COVID vaccines,” Jonathan Vanian, BBC News, July 23, 2021.)

  • Major Sources and Articles
    Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy,” Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Staff Report, Jan 10, 2018
  • “Virtual Hatred: How Russia Tried to Start a Race War in the United States,” William J. Aceves, Michigan Journal of Race and Law, Vol. 24:177 (2019)
  • “Social Media Weaponization: The Biohazard of Russian Disinformation Campaigns,” Sarah Gamberini, Joint Force Quarterly, National Defense University, Nov 19, 2020
  • The Origins of Russia’s Broad Political Assault on the United States,” James Lamond, Center for American Progress Oct 3, 2018

“The Kremlin Playbook,” H. Andrew Schwartz, Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 2019 (Podcasts);

“Russian troll farm ploughs on,” Max Seddon and Hannah Murphy, Irish Times, Sep 4, 2020;

“The Uplifting Tweet You Just Shared? A Russian Troll Sent It,” Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren, Rolling Stone Magazine, Nov 25, 2019;

“Study Exposes Russian Disinformation Campaign That Operated in the Shadows for 6 Years,” Bobby Allyn, June 16, 2020, NPR.org;

“Internet Research Agency,” Parochialism,” “Regionalism” Wikipedia.)

(Other posts: http://www.londonedition.net)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s