Washington, D.C.— Following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three organizations allegedly behind a Russian “troll farm” accused of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a reporter from The New Yorker— who profiled the Internet Research Agency (IRA) “troll farm” in 2015— has largely refuted the indictment’s characterization of the operation.
Adrian Chen, staff writer for The New Yorker, was interviewed on MSNBC with Chris Hayes about the IRA troll farm, and likened the operation to a social media marketing campaign.
In an article for The New Yorker, Chen noted the amateurish nature of the IRA:
In the indictment, Mueller’s team reveals that the Agency didn’t discover the idea of targeting ‘purple states’ until June, 2016, when a Texas-based conservative activist introduced them to the term. Cambridge Analytica this is not.
Chen made clear that the operation was not a professionally-run covert operation as propagated in the media, but instead, noted the outfit was “inept and haphazard.”
In the Times Magazine article that supposedly made me an authority, I detailed some of the Agency’s disturbing activities, including its attempts to spread false reports of a terrorist attack in Louisiana and to smear me as a neo-Nazi sympathizer. But, if I could do it all over again, I would have highlighted just how inept and haphazard those attempts were. That the Agency is now widely seen as a savvy, efficient manipulator of American public opinion is, in no small part, the fault of experts. They may derive their authority from perceived neutrality, but in reality they—we—have interests, just like everyone else.
In a Twitter post, Chen wrote:
Tried to tamp down the troll farm panic on @chrislhayes show last night. It’s 90 people with a shaky grasp of English and a rudimentary understanding of U.S. politics shitposting on Facebook.
In a response to a tweet noting the IRA actually has 300 to 400 individuals, Chen wrote “that was the entire Internet Research Agency. The American department had ~90 people, according to the Russian journalists who did the most in-depth investigation.”
Chen then provided a link to a Washington Post profile of Russian journalists who had also investigated the troll farm, and reached a similar conclusion to Chen’s regarding the capability of the IRA troll farm.
That was the entire Internet Research Agency. The American department had ~90 people, according to the Russian journalists who did the most in-depth investigation. https://t.co/tfSfvjiYQs https://t.co/G2bkrzeWpl
— Adrian Chen (@AdrianChen) February 20, 2018
Additionally, Rob Goldman, Facebook’s Vice President of Advertising, refuted the idea that the IRA was trying to get Trump elected, arguing on Twitter that due to the vast majority of Facebook ads being purchased after the election was over, the goal was likely not to elect Donald Trump, but “to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us.”
Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election. I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal.
— Rob Goldman (@robjective) February 17, 2018
After suggesting that the underlying narrative was not to bolster a candidate, but to sow discord within the American polity, Goldman was apparently caught in the crosshairs, and according to Wired, Facebook VP of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan stated that “Nothing we found contradicts the Special Counsel’s indictments. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong.”