Characterizing the Internet Research Agency’s Social Media Operations During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election using Linguistic Analyses

Boyd, Ryan L.; Spangher, Alexander; Fourney, Adam; Nushi, Besmira; Ranade, Gireeja; Pennebaker, James; Horvitz, Eric

Converging investigations on the part of multiple agencies/agents have provided overwhelming evidence for Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As a part (and consequence) of recent reports, multiple datasets that capture actions taken by actors of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), have been released to the public. In the cur-rent paper, we present and abridged report of several preliminary forensic analyses of Facebook ad data and Twitter troll accounts that were run by the IRA during the election cycle. Through the use of language analysis, we characterize the evolution of IRA content over the course of the election cycle, providing a basis for understanding how left- and right-leaning ideologies were differentially targeted to spread enmity among the American electorate. Additionally, through an analysis of syntactic constructions, we find that the content produced by the IRA on Twitter was linguistically unique from a control sample of English-speaking Twitter accounts. Altogether, our findings suggest that the IRA’s operations were largely unsophisticated and “low-budget” in nature, with no serious attempts at point-of-origin obfuscation being taken.