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Russia, Cambridge Analytica, and What Else? Groups and Targets behind Divisive Issue Campaigns on Facebook

With Professor Young Mie Kim
17 May 2018
With Professor Young Mie Kim
Filming venue:

Oxford Internet Institute, 1 St Giles’, Oxford OX1 3JS

In light of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S elections and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the present research asks the question of whether the digital media has become the stealth media for anonymous political campaigns. By utilizing user-based, real-time, digital ad tracking tool, the present research reverse engineers and tracks the groups (Study 1) and the targets (Study 2) of divisive issue campaigns based on 5 million paid ad impressions on Facebook exposed to 9,519 individuals between September 28 to November 8, 2016. The findings revealed that anonymous groups–unidentifiable “suspicious” groups, astroturf/movement/unregistered groups, and nonprofits who did not file a report to Federal Election Commission—ran most of the divisive issue campaigns. One out of six suspicious groups later turned out to be Kremlin-linked groups. Anonymous groups clearly targeted battleground states including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, where Democratic strongholds turned to support Trump by razor-thin margins. The present research offers insight relevant for regulatory policies and discusses the normative implications for the functioning of democracy.