Co-author Renée DiResta
When protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in 2011, Russia made good on its decades-long alliance with Syria, providing Assad with diplomatic and military support. The Kremlin also doubled down on its propaganda efforts, pushing their anti-Western, anti-rebel, and pro-Assad narratives across Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Quora, and Reddit. In this paper we undertake a comprehensive assessment of the reach of these narratives. With “news” articles in broken English on dubious websites, and low engagement rates on propaganda social media accounts, the reach of these narratives may seem limited. In this paper, we leverage datasets from a variety of social media platforms and Russian-attributed media outlets to more fully assess how far these narratives traveled. We use often-ignored measures of reach and engagement: secondary domains where propaganda is re-posted, and incoming links and engagement data from public and private social media accounts. With case studies of particular narratives and individual sock puppet identities, we describe how traditional narrative laundering, biased media properties and created personas are complemented by social media-enabled peer-to-peer persuasion methods.
Shelby Grossman is a research scholar at the Stanford Internet Observatory. She was previously an assistant professor of political science at the University of Memphis. Dr. Grossman's primary research interests are in comparative politics and sub-Saharan Africa. Her research has been published in Comparative Political Studies, PS: Political Science and Politics, World Development, and World Politics.
Dr. Grossman was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law from 2016-17. She earned her PhD in Government from Harvard University in 2016.