Research Director Jonathan Albright on Russian Ad Networks

This week, Research Director Jonathan Albright has published a number of articles on research about Russian ad networks and their influence during the 2016 election. Look at Jonathan’s dataset, and follow him on Medium, for more.


The Washington Post, 10/5, “Russian propaganda may have been shared hundreds of millions of times, new research says.” Read here.

“The primary push to influence wasn’t necessarily through paid advertising,” said Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “The best way to to understand this from a strategic perspective is organic reach.”

In other words, to understand Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election, the frame should not be the reach of the 3,000 ads that Facebook handed over to Congress and that were bought by a single Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency. Instead, the frame should be the reach of all the activity of the Russian-controlled accounts — each post, each “like,” each comment and also all of the ads. Looked at this way, the picture shifts dramatically. It is bigger — much bigger — but also somewhat different and more subtle than generally portrayed.

The New York Times, 10/9, “How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics.” Read here.

“This is cultural hacking,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. “They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They’re feeding outrage — and it’s easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share.”

All of the pages were shut down by Facebook in recent weeks, as the company conducts an internal review of Russian penetration of its social network. But content and engagement metrics for hundreds of posts were captured by CrowdTangle, a common social analytics tool, and gathered by Mr. Albright.

The Washington Post, 10/9, “Add Google to the list of tech companies used by Russians to spread disinformation.” Read here.

Facebook said last week that modeling showed that 10 million people saw the Russian-bought ads bought by the 470 pages and accounts controlled by the Internet Research Agency. But Albright, the Columbia social media researcher, reported soon after that free Facebook content affiliated with just six of those 470 pages and accounts likely reached the news feeds of users hundreds of millions of times.

Albright also has found links to Russian disinformation on Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram, as well as Twitter, Facebook and Google. Clicking on links on any of these sites allowed Russian operatives to identify and track Web users ­wherever they went on the Internet.


Rachel Maddow, audio clip from 10/9. Watch here.

(Again, you can look at Jonathan’s dataset, or follow him on Medium.)