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Russian propaganda may have fueled fake election news fiasco

Campaign used thousands of botnets and networks of websites and social-media accounts to create as well as spread misleading articles, the Washington Post reports

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: British newspapers show U.S. Republican candidate and President Elect Donald Trump on their front pages the day after Trump was announced the winner in U.S. presidential elections on November 9, 2016 in London, England. The American public have voted for the Republican candidate Donald Trump to be the 45th President of the United States. After 46 of the 50 States declared he had 278 of the 538 electoral college votes and Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in a telephone call. British Prime Minister Theresa May congratulated Trump releasing a statement promising to work with him to build on the special relationship between the UK and the USA. (Photo Illustration by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

All that fake news you saw during the election may have been part of a "sophisticated" Russian propaganda campaign.

The abundance of fake news in the lead up to President-elect Donald Trump's victory earlier this month has become a hot button issue, entangling tech giants like Facebook and Google. It turns out much of it was part of a Russian campaign, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The campaign used thousands of botnets, teams of paid human trolls, and networks of websites and social-media accounts to create as well as spread misleading articles, the newspaper reported. Independent researchers tracking the operation say the goal was to help Trump and undermine faith in American democracy, according to the Post.

"This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media," Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the Post.

The Russian embassy didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The propaganda campaign was revealed by researchers with the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a separate, nonpartisan group called PropOrNot, according to the Post. PropOrNot said it will publicly release its findings on Friday. The researchers with the FPRI also published what they learned in the article, "Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy" earlier this month.

This comes on top of a report earlier this month that Facebook could have helped combat fake news with an update to its News Feed. The software update was reportedly shelved because it would have disproportionately blocked out supposed stories from right-wing news sites, and Facebook didn't want to give the impression it was politically biased.

Even President Barack Obama weighed in, warning that fake news has the power to damage or even destroy democracy.