“Donald Trump Is My President!”: The Internet Research Agency Propaganda Machine

Bastos, Marco; Farkas, Johan
Social Media + Society

This article presents a typological study of the Twitter accounts operated by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a company specialized in online influence operations based in St. Petersburg, Russia. Drawing on concepts from 20th-century propaganda theory, we modeled the IRA operations along propaganda classes and campaign targets. The study relies on two historical databases and data from the Internet Archive?s Wayback Machine to retrieve 826 user profiles and 6,377 tweets posted by the agency between 2012 and 2017. We manually coded the source as identifiable, obfuscated, or impersonated and classified the campaign target of IRA operations using an inductive typology based on profile descriptions, images, location, language, and tweeted content. The qualitative variables were analyzed as relative frequencies to test the extent to which the IRA?s black, gray, and white propaganda are deployed with clearly defined targets for short-, medium-, and long-term propaganda strategies. The results show that source classification from propaganda theory remains a valid framework to understand IRA?s propaganda machine and that the agency operates a composite of different user accounts tailored to perform specific tasks, including openly pro-Russian profiles, local American and German news sources, pro-Trump conservatives, and Black Lives Matter activists.