In August, after a year of silence on the social network platform Gab, a person under the nickname Nora Berka appeared. She retweeted several messages with sharply conservative political themes before resorting to an outpouring of anger.
The posts mostly bashed President Biden and other Democrats, sometimes in obscene fashion. There were also complaints about the use of taxpayer dollars to support Ukraine in the war against Russia, and caricatures of the president of Ukraine used by russian propaganda.
According to data from the cybersecurity group Recorded Future, this account was previously linked to the same russian agency that meddled in the 2016 US presidential election and again in 2020, the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, reports The New York Times .
It’s part of what Recorded Future and other researchers have identified as a new, albeit more narrowly focused, effort by russia ahead of the US midterm elections. The goal, as before, is to inflame anger among conservative voters and undermine confidence in the American electoral system. This time, it also aims to undermine the extensive military aid the Biden administration has been providing to Ukraine.
“It’s clear they are trying to get them to cut off aid and money to Ukraine,” said Alex Plitsas, a former Army soldier and Pentagon information operations official now with Providence Consulting Group, a business technology company.
The campaign — using accounts that pose as enraged Americans like Nora Berka — have added fuel to the most divisive political and cultural issues in the country today. Such campaigns demonstrate not only how vulnerable the American political system remains to foreign manipulation, but also how purveyors of disinformation have evolved and adapted to efforts by major social networks to remove or downplay false or misleading content.
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a warning about the threat of disinformation spread by “dark media channels, online magazines, messaging apps, fake websites, emails, text messages and fake online personas.” Misinformation may include claims that data or voting results have been hacked or compromised.
The agencies urged people not to like, discuss or share messages on the Internet from unknown or untrusted sources. They did not identify specific efforts, but social media platforms and researchers tracking disinformation have recently identified various campaigns by Russia, China and Iran.
Recorded Future and two other social media research companies, Graphika and Mandiant, found a number of Russian campaigns that have turned to Gab, Parler, Getter and other newer platforms that pride themselves on creating unmoderated spaces in the name of free speech.
Many of the accounts discovered by researchers were previously used by a news agency that called itself the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens. Meta has previously linked this news resource to Russian information campaigns centered around the Internet Research Agency.
Since then, the network appears to have been disbanded, and many of the social media accounts associated with it have ceased operations after being publicly identified in the run-up to the 2020 election. In August and September, these accounts started to become active again. However, it is currently difficult to measure the exact impact of these accounts on American voters.