A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee has found that Instagram played a much larger role in Russian manipulation of US voters than the company has previously acknowledged. The report also predicted that the social media photo-sharing site will be a key tool for those looking to manipulate the result of the coming 2020 elections.
The report, which was compiled by three groups of researchers from cybersecurity research firm New Knowledge, Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC, reviewed data from Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet and discovered that "Instagram was perhaps the most effective platform for the Internet Research Agency (IRA)".
The IRA was the "troll farm" that aimed to divide Americans during the election with false information – or "fake news" – and memes.
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"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 found. It also noted that IRA activity moved predominantly to Instagram after the media began to write about Russian activity on Twitter and Facebook.
"Our assessment is that Instagram is likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis," the researchers concluded.
The report found that, of the IRA accounts on Instagram, 40% had more than 10,000 followers and that the largest account, @blackstagram, had 303,633 followers. There were also found to be 187 million interactions with Instagram content, while Facebook and Twitter had 77 million and 73 million, respectively.
The researchers noted that much of the content aimed at encouraging voters to cast their ballots for Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election and also disparaged Hillary Clinton, with one account @femenism_tag encouraging the idea that Clinton was a "bad feminist".
This year, Instagram celebrated reaching 1 billion monthly active users, up from 800 million in September 2017.