This month: September 2020
Manufacturing rage: The Russian Internet Research Agency’s political astroturfing on social media
This paper examines social media ads purchased by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). Due to Facebook and Instagram’s promotional features, IRA managed to microtarget audiences mostly located in the United States, fitting its messages to suit the audiences’ political, racial, gendered, and in some cases religious backgrounds. The findings reveal the divisive nature and topics that are dominant including race, immigration, and police brutality. The IRA has added political astroturfing as a powerful tool at a low cost contributing to broader Russian geopolitical disinformation campaign strategies.
   
Also this month
Feeding the troll detection algorithm: Informal flags used as labels in classification models to identify perceived computational propaganda
The authenticity of public debate is challenged by the emergence of networks of non-genuine users (such as political bots and trolls) employed and maintained by governments to influence public opinion. To tackle this issue, researchers have developed algorithms to automatically detect non-genuine users, but it is not clear how to identify relevant content, what features to use, and how often to retrain classifiers. Users of online discussion boards who informally flag other users by calling them out as paid trolls provide potential labels of perceived propaganda in real time. Against this background, this study tested the performance of supervised machine learning models to predict discussion board comments perceived as propaganda by users of a major Romanian online newspaper. Results show that precision and recall are relatively high and stable. This method could be extended to monitor suspicious activity in other online environments.