An independent study has uncovered a coordinated campaign on Instagram designed to undermine President Trump. The Facebook-owned photo-sharing app claims it is investigating and removing fake accounts associated with the campaign. “We are investigating the accounts in question and have already removed those that we’ve found to violate our policies,” an Instagram spokesperson told Reuters. “Accounts used to manipulate or mislead the public are not allowed on Instagram and we will take action if we find additional violations.” The campaign resembles the disinformation campaigns that occurred on Instagram and Facebook back in 2016.
“We have uncovered a small operation that is very likely part of something bigger,” said Andrea Stroppa, the head of research at Ghost Data, which has previously published reports on online counterfeiting and malicious botnets.
“I get the feeling that someone out there is experimenting. Testing the waters. They know what they are doing.”
Some of the accounts appeared to have broken Instagram’s rules, the study said, for example by using pictures stolen from other people or by acting in tandem with other accounts to spew out vitriolic messages.
Ghost Data identified 350 anti-Trump accounts “which were almost entirely devoted to deriding” President Trump with similar or identical posts made in close succession. “Of these, 19 accounts stood out, appearing to be interlinked and waging incessant ‘memetic warfare,’ using a battery of manipulated images and videos to belittle the Republican leader.”
The 350 anti-Trump accounts have put out some 121,00 posts since the first of them was created in October 2016, generating a total 35.2 million so-called interactions, which includes people ‘liking’ the item or making a comment.
The smaller subset of 19 accounts started to emerge last August and have since posted around 3,250 times, generating 440,000 interactions — more than half of them since March.
“Their goal seems to be to infiltrate into (social media) networks that are much bigger,” said Stroppa.
According to Stroppa, “This is a campaign of hate speech not one of reasoned political opposition. The tone is often very vulgar and rude.” Of course, you could say that about basically all of Trump’s critics.
You can read Ghost Data’s report here.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in July 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis