Russia is using social media to manipulate users’ opinions about online ads and advertisers, a report says.
The study, published by the Atlantic Council and the University of Pennsylvania, shows that Russian-linked actors have successfully manipulated opinions about Facebook, Google and Twitter using a number of tactics, including a botnet, a “fake news” campaign, and disinformation campaigns.
The researchers also found that the bots were able to sway the outcome of elections around the world.
Russia has been widely suspected of engaging in online ad fraud for years, but it’s unclear exactly what Russian actors are doing.
The Atlantic Council report does not identify the specific bots used, but the research was conducted by researchers at the Atlantic Institute for Security Policy, a think tank focused on cyberwarfare.
“What we have seen is that the Russian government has a very well-developed system for manipulating social media users, using bots, for a very long time,” Michael Bochenek, a cybersecurity expert at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of a book on Russia’s cyberwar capabilities, told Business Insider.
“They have a lot of tools and a very strong and efficient capacity to manipulate opinion, and we don’t know exactly what their tools are.”
Russia has a history of targeting Facebook, Twitter and Google.
A number of the attacks used fake news stories as part of the campaign, the report notes.
In one of the biggest attacks, Russian government-backed bots were used to attack the accounts of Facebook, CNN and Google in 2016.
According to the Atlantic, the bots then used those accounts to target Facebook users and other websites.
“The fact that it was done so successfully was quite amazing, because you never would have imagined a bot could do that,” Bochenek said.
Facebook said in a statement that it has “deeply concerned” about Russia’s alleged campaign. “
You can’t expect any other country to do that kind of thing, so that was really a testament to the capabilities of Russia.”
Facebook said in a statement that it has “deeply concerned” about Russia’s alleged campaign.
The company said it has received numerous reports of Russian-backed accounts being used to target users and to manipulate the outcome in other countries.
The New York Times, which first reported on the report, also noted that Facebook had begun to use a system to verify the authenticity of accounts.
The paper also said that the company had been working with law enforcement officials in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia to investigate.
“We have taken additional steps to help protect our users from being targeted by these accounts and to ensure that our systems are designed to block them,” Facebook said.
Twitter, Google, and Microsoft have also stepped up their efforts to crack down on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Twitter said that it had removed more than 400,000 fake accounts and suspended more than 7 million accounts, including those associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Microsoft said it had suspended more 100,000 accounts and blocked more than 1.4 million accounts.
Facebook has also been cracking down on fake accounts, but not with the same frequency.
A study released in November showed that Facebook has been blocking more than 9 million accounts and taking more than $2.7 million in payments from the Russian military and state-owned entities.
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