A Daily Beast’s exclusive investigation confirms the hacking operation against the Internet Research Agency, already under accusation for the attempts at conditioning the US presidential elections. So the data on the Russian trolls ended up on the Net.

Whoever was thinking of the Internet Research Agency (which in 2016 plotted to influence the presidential elections in the US creating hundreds of pages and advertising accounts on Facebook) in St. Petersburg as a sort of Spectre [1], might want to change his mind. New details are in fact emerging about IRA, and two weeks ago an investigation of the Daily Beast confirmed the news that had already been circulating for days: the Russian organization was itself the victim of a hacking operation, proving to be anything but impregnable and even a bit naive in its security management.

Fact is that many documents were stolen from the IRA’s computers, now available on the Internet. The material was auctioned on February 10th by Joker.Buzz, a service that presents somewhat similar to WikiLeaks. These documents allow us to understand how the Russian hackers managed to manipulate social media and promote divisive and polarizing content among US voters in 2016.

But there is more. We came to learn that it was not just an online trolling operation. The Internet Research Agency saboteurs got in contact with American activists, both rightist and leftist, supplying them with many kinds of propaganda material. This happened, for example, during the black lives matter campaign .

Moreover, if the trolling on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook by the farm in St. Petersburg was well known, the leak also showed that the IRA operated on Reddit and Tumblr. In any case, this leak of news shows that, although the Russian trolls were able to influence and manipulate the American political debate online, they were far less equipped to safeguard their secrets properly.

Who helped Donald Trump?


In mid-February, Robert Mueller [2] indicted 13 Russian individuals and 3 Russian companies for attempting to trick Americans into consuming Russian propaganda that targeted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Of course, the question that is somewhat more important is left unanswered: to what extent did these operations of disinformation prove to be effective at influencing the outcome of the American elections?

As we wrote in another recent post on the subject, there is some risk of overestimating the extent of the problem. According to a research published in January, about one in four Americans was exposed to at least one false news on the eve of the presidential elections. It also turns out that the fake news were only 1% of those read by Hillary Clinton’s supporters and 6% of those read by Donald Trump’s supporters. According to another study, published in 2017, Americans who gave credit to the false news they were exposed during the last presidential campaign did not exceed 8%.


[1] The criminal organization imagined by Ian Fleming in the famous James Bond saga

[2] Robert Mueller was appointed in May 2017 as special counsel overseeing an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.



Brendan Nyhan, Andrew Guess, Jason Reifler, Selective Exposure to Misinformation: US presidential campaign, European Research Council, January 9, 2018.

Hunt Allcott, Matthew Gentzkow, Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election, “Journal of Economic Perspectives”, 31, 2 (2017), 211-236

Niall Ferguson, Social Networks Are Creating a Global Crisis of Democracy, The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Jan. 19th 2018