Researchers find coordinated anti-Trump campaign on Instagram

Researchers have identified what they are calling a coordinated campaign to undermine President Trump on Instagram, an effort that bears hallmarks of the disinformation campaigns that proliferated on the platform in 2016. 

A recently published study by Italian analytics firm Ghost Data identified a network of 350 anti-Trump accounts coordinating efforts to promote messages deriding the president, sometimes with graphic or violent language. The researchers found 19 suspicious Instagram accounts that took the lead in promoting anti-Trump content.

In total, the posts from the accounts generated have more than 35.2 million interactions, with 3.9 million of those interactions occurring in the last two months. The study concluded that the anti-Trump Instagram campaign has ramped up over the past several months, with the network’s activities swelling “dramatically” since April.{mosads}

“Most content shared by these users is identical, while other images are slightly altered in size, colors, filter, partial or missing text,” the researchers wrote.

“Many identical or similar posts are published a few minutes apart from each other, while some are even weeks apart,” they added, explaining how they decided the campaign is coordinated rather than the result of organic political discourse. 

Reuters first reported on the study on Monday. 

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said in a statement that it is “investigating the accounts in question and have already removed those that we’ve found to violate our policies.”

“Accounts used to manipulate or mislead the public are not allowed on Instagram and we will take action if we find additional violations,” a company spokesperson said. 

The company has so far removed accounts that violate its “misrepresentation policies,” which bar users from impersonating or deceiving others. 

Some of the accounts identified by name in the study — for example, Dumpchumpvote — were still online as of Monday afternoon, while others — including Dumpchump, Lindadiazzzz, and emmamiller71 — have been removed. 

The researchers pointed out that some of the posts appear to violate Instagram’s hate speech policies, while others violate its guidelines against inauthentic behavior.

The interactions for the 19 suspicious accounts’ posts “are actually growing exponentially,” the study found, with 69,222 likes and comments in the first 10 days of May. 

Instagram has come under fire for allowing a Russian troll farm to take advantage of its platform during the 2016 presidential election, with members of the Russian government’s Internet Research Agency creating more than 100 Instagram accounts aimed at sowing political discord. Analysts have said Instagram was one of the most powerful tools available to the Internet Research Agency, and they were allowed to spread pro-Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton messages for years unabated.

Researchers said they did not see evidence that the anti-Trump campaign was linked to Russia, noting that it is difficult to discern intent with coordinated campaigns. 

“Even if it is impossible to differentiate between clickbait strategies and sincere political outrage, our data shows that a certain number of accounts are directly linked to each other and even operate in a coordinated fashion to spread these anti-Trump memes,” they wrote.

The network of 350 accounts has published 121,051 posts since 2016. 

Instagram and Facebook have been engaged in concerted efforts to wipe inauthentic behavior from their services for months. Instagram has identified and removed hundreds of Instagram accounts as part of those efforts. 

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