In two separate reports, NPR has uncovered how Russia’s influence campaign, carried out by the Russian company, Internet Research Agency, on social media not only pushed overwhelmingly pro-NRA messaging, but sometimes copied language used by the NRA, word for word.
According to “a new analysis of millions of now-deleted Twitter posts connected to the [Internet Research Agency], done by NPR in collaboration with an outside data firm,” of the accounts that talked about guns, “60 percent were pro-NRA and pro-gun, while only 15 percent were opposed.” And of the content the Internet Research Agency produced that “mentioned firearms, guns, the Second Amendment or the NRA, 77 percent of the posts were pro-NRA and pro-gun.”
“Russia’s influence campaign on Twitter pushed pro-gun and pro-National Rifle Association messages during the 2016 election and beyond — a rare example of consistency in a scheme that mostly sought to play up extremes on the left and right.
“On every issue, from race to health care, women’s rights to police brutality, gay marriage to global warming, accounts associated with the “Internet Research Agency” sought to amplify controversy by playing up conflict.
“Except when it came to guns and the NRA.”
According to NPR, these messages had significant reach. “Pro-NRA and pro-gun messages had more than 32.4 million potential impressions; anti-gun and anti-NRA messages had fewer than 6.7 million potential impressions. The pro-NRA messages had nearly five times the reach as the anti-NRA messages.”
In addition to pro-gun messages, the Russian troll accounts also tagged NRA Twitter accounts hundreds of times and the trolls and NRA often shared the same content, sometimes verbatim.
“The National Rifle Association, on at least 90 occasions, promoted Twitter content similar to that of the Internet Research Agency, in some cases after the IRA had gone first.
“On at least 62 occasions, the Internet Research Agency shared the same content as the National Rifle Association after an original NRA post.”
So, how did they know to follow the NRA’s messaging? According to Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russian operations, “If I were a Russian intelligence officer, I would immediately tell my colleagues, ‘Look, we need to get some Americans who really understand it and advise us, in order to really have an impact.’”
As we now know, personal connections did exist between the Russian government and the NRA — accused Kremlin agent and purported lifetime NRA member, Maria Butina, and her mentor, the now-sanctioned lifetime NRA member and Vladimir Putin ally, Alexander Torshin, both made efforts to develop ties at the highest levels of the NRA. According to NPR’s report, Torshin and the Russian troll accounts interacted on multiple occasions, including holiday greetings.