AUSTIN, Texas — The biggest lie in 2016 was that Donald Trump had been elected President.
The biggest fake news story in 2016?
It’s the president being impeached.
That was the takeaway from an analysis of social media posts and news stories across the globe, which revealed that the biggest hoaxes and lies were spread by Russian-linked actors and groups.
It’s a finding that puts the lie to the argument that the world is increasingly becoming less safe and a wake-up call for politicians and pundits to recognize the dangers of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.
It also raises questions about the future of Western democracy.
“The goal is to create a sense of doubt, uncertainty and mistrust in the minds of the population, and so that you can push through whatever you want to, and people will be afraid to do what’s right,” said Peter Bergen, a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Austin who led the study.
He noted that the Russian disinformation campaign has been well-documented, and that the data on how it is spreading is clear.
“I think it’s really important to think about the long-term consequences of these actions.
The question is, will it be good for democracy?”
But it’s not only Russia, Bergen said.
“We saw the same pattern of misinformation being spread in China and other countries,” he added.
The analysis, conducted by the University at Buffalo’s Robert L. Kuttner Center for the Study of American Politics and the Institute for Science and International Security at the John Hopkins University, surveyed over 10,000 fake news posts from more than 200 social media platforms in the first six months of 2016.
The researchers found that Russia-linked trolls and bots were responsible for more than 2.2 million posts, with fake news accounts being used to spread disinformation and misinformation.
But it also showed that Russian propaganda was spread by more than 3,000 actors on social media, mostly linked to Russian news sites, and not just a single group.
That’s because the Russian trolls and botnets are not necessarily acting on behalf of one country or one group.
They are not working together, and they may not even have any common goal.
“If we were to assume that Russian state actors were involved in these activities, that they were using them as a vehicle for spreading disinformation and spreading false information, then it makes it more difficult for our democracy to function,” said Bergen.
While the findings highlight the importance of the United States in fighting the spread of Russian propaganda, they also raise important questions about what lies the West must be willing to trust when it comes to foreign disinformation.
“What we see here is that Russia is clearly the primary perpetrator of this, and we are also seeing a pattern of coordinated efforts in other countries that are similar,” said Christopher Painter, an assistant professor at New York University’s Center for Digital Journalism.
“This is a way of amplifying their message.”
The study did not analyze how many stories the Kremlin-linked propaganda networks shared, or the number of times they posted, but it found that the most popular disinformation was shared on Facebook and Twitter.
In the case of the U.S., more than 4.6 million posts were shared by the Russian-backed social media networks.
The study also found that more than half of the posts that Russian-based groups shared were not based on facts, but rather were meant to push back against U.s. policy in the Middle East and Africa.
The majority of the stories featured false news and propaganda that included stories that were untrue, said Christopher Gardner, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who was not involved in the research.
“In some cases, we were getting information from sources that had not even been verified,” Gardner said.
Gardner said that he hopes the findings will help policymakers and the public understand the risks that Russian disinformation poses to the U, U.K. and the world.
“As much as I think the Russians were responsible, I think they are the only ones who have the ability to really change the narrative in terms of what’s going on,” he said.
He added that Russia has done a good job of distorting events to make people believe the Kremlin is in control.
“You don’t see the U in the news, but you see Russia in the headlines,” he explained.
“And I think that’s a problem.
The fact is that it’s an incredibly powerful tool for Russian state propaganda.”
But there’s a long way to go before policymakers can rely on Russian disinformation more than ever.
In order to understand the degree to which Russia-backed groups and trolls are able to manipulate public opinion and the political discourse in the United Kingdom, the study is only the first step.
“It’s really a matter of learning from the mistakes that they make,” said Gardner.
“They’re a global actor and they are going to make mistakes.”
Bergen says the next steps in the investigation will include analyzing how often Russian-aligned groups and