But researchers have centered on Twitter as a particular vector for fake news and laundered Russian messaging targeting American audiences. A former FBI agent, Clint Watts, testified before the Senate’s Russia investigation about Twitter bots and human-driven accounts amplifying RT and Sputnik news stories that ranged from anti-American framing to outright falsities. Among the profile keywords the inauthentic users employed to build trust amongst the American right, which for generations considered Russia an adversary, were “God, military, Trump, family, country, conservative, Christian, America and constitution,” Watts found.
Russian propaganda delivered to Americans on social media seek to heighten ethnic divisions, play off security fears like domestic terrorism and increase anxieties about social and economic decline, researchers say. They can carry offline impacts, from Americans showing up unknowingly at Russian-promoted rallies to causing what Watts said were observable “stock dips which allow all sorts of predatory trading and other things to happen.” Knowing that editors in U.S. newsrooms obsessively monitor Twitter trends, Russian trolls promote fake stories in the hope legitimate journalists pick them up.