INSTAGRAM was a bigger Russian fake news tool than Facebook during the 2016 Presidential election, a US senate report has found.
Claims that Russia was able to interfere with Facebook to swing the election in favour of Donald Trump have dogged the social media giant.
But according a report commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was bigger fake news tool for the Russians.
The Internet Research Agency (IRA) Russian troll farm received more engagement on Instagram than it did on any other social media platform, a joint report by three groups of researchers has found.
New Knowledge, Columbia University and Canfield Research analysed data from 2015 and 2018.
They found there were 187 million interactions with Instagram content, compared with 77 million on Facebook and 73 million on Twitter.
“Instagram was a significant front in the IRA’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in Congressional testimony,” the report says.
IRA activity shifted there after the media began to write about Russian activity on Twitter and Facebook.
Facebook has so far given Instagram only passing mention in its disclosures about Russian activity on its platform.
Researchers said content the IRA posted on Instagram sparked conversation, with the overall goal of emboldening followers of Donald Trump and criticising Hillary Clinton, sometimes in subtle ways.
About 40 percent of the Instagram accounts achieved more than 10,000 followers, and 12 had over 100,000 followers.
The biggest account, @blackstagram__, attracted 303,663 followers, and may have used e-commerce to make money or gather information about US voters.
Another account, @femenism_tag, promoted feminist ideas and the idea that Clinton was a bad feminist.
Content on Facebook encouraged people to follow such accounts on Instagram, which reinforced messages the IRA was spreading on other networks, including on YouTube and Twitter.
The Instagram accounts for particular interest groups mentioned each other and sometimes legitimate accounts, run by real Americans, to boost their profile.
“Although the Facebook operation received more attention in the mainstream press, more content was created on Instagram, and overall Instagram engagement exceeded that of Facebook,” the paper states,” said the report.
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“Our assessment is that Instagram is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis.”
In October 2017 Facebook admitted in the US that it allowed suspect Russian groups to post 3,000 ads to help propel President Trump to victory.
The social media giant was accused of turning a blind eye to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election and instigating a cover-up.
A New York Times investigation in November 2018 alleged bosses Mark Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg were so obsessed with growing Facebook they “ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view”.
The newspaper reported security chief Alex Stamos had in fact amassed evidence showing Russian activity before the election.