In February 2018, the CIA concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 US presidential election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. A Russian organization based in St Petersburg, Internet Research Agency, successfully disseminated propaganda related to the U.S. election. On Facebook, the CIA found more than 80.000 posts linked to the Russian agency that reached 126 million users, as well as 120 IRA-linked Facebook pages. On Twitter, more than 2700 IRA-linked accounts were shut down. On Google, there were more than 1100 videos on Russian-backed YouTube channels and IRA spent at least $4700 on Google Ads (Barret, Horwitz and Helderman 2018). Some ads targeted the candidates directly, others apparently aimed to divide Americans across controversial issues like gun control and immigration. Russians targeted Christians through the use of religious symbols, inciting anger against Hillary Clinton.
A study from researchers at Ohio State University found that fake news probably played a significant role in depressing Hillary Clinton’s support on Election Day. The study suggests that about 4 percent of President Barack Obama’s 2012 supporters were dissuaded from voting for Clinton in 2016 by belief in fake news stories (Gunther, Beck and Nisbet 2018). The 2016 US election interference should sound alarms to democracies regarding the reach and power of online platforms to shape political opinion as well as the vulnerability of elections from foreign cyberattacks.