Ahead of November’s election, American intelligence officials and others are on high alert for mischief from Russia’s Internet Research Agency.

Remember it?

The Kremlin-backed group was identified by American authorities as having interfered in the 2016 election. At the time, Russians working for the group stole the identities of American citizens and spread incendiary messages on Facebook and other social media platforms to stoke discord on race, religion and other issues that were aimed at influencing voters.

To avoid detection, the group has since evolved its tactics. Here are five ways its methods have shifted.

When Congress released examples of Facebook ads that the Russian troll farm bought several years ago, many of the ads had misspellings and grammatical errors. Some captions in the ads omitted or misused “a” or “the” because indefinite articles aren’t used in Russian.

Now Russian operators are trying to avoid detection by copying and pasting chunks of texts from other sources directly into their posts. When Facebook took down 50 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency in October, many of the posts featured text copied from Wikipedia, as well as from The Atlantic and other outlets, said Ben Nimmo, a researcher at Graphika who investigates disinformation.


Before

Credit…Josh Russell

One common trait among troll farm posts in the past was that its images were stamped with watermarks — a logo, text or pattern superimposed onto another image — as a way for the group to build followers for its Facebook pages.

More recently, the group has used the same images but removed the logo or blurred it out, and sometimes it changed the captions by using different typefaces. That helped to disguise that it was behind the posts, said Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute.

“Now that many of the known Russian pages have been identified, using watermarks is a double-edged sword, since it can also help content moderators track and shut down larger networks of disinformation,” she said.


Before

Now

source: nytimes.com

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