According to The New York Times, US Cyber Command is identifying Russian operatives in control of troll accounts and letting them know the US is aware of their activities.
How do you stop a Russian internet troll? The US government is reportedly trying to do so by identifying the people in control of the troll accounts and telling them to back off.
The New York Times reports that US Cyber Command has started using the strategy in recent days to deter Russian operatives from spreading disinformation in the run-up to the midterm elections.
It isn’t clear how many Russian operatives have been targeted or how they’ve been contacted. According to the Times, US Cyber Command is not directly threatening people with sanctions or indictment, but anyone in contact with US officials should know that’s a possibility.
News of operation comes days after the US Justice Department charged a 44-year-old Russian woman for her suspected role in funding Russian efforts to spread election propaganda this year on Twitter and Facebook. Another group of 13 Russians were indicted in February for conspiring to influence the 2016 election through social media. However, none of the Russians have been extradited and put on trial.
US Cyber Command told PCMag it does not discuss classified operations. It would only say that “the US government leadership has made it clear that it will not accept any foreign interference, or attempts to undermine or manipulate our elections in any way.”
In recent months, US officials have been publicly warning that Kremlin-backed operatives are trying to divide Americans by riling up political opinions over social media. According to federal investigators, Russians pose as US-based groups and activists and seize on hot-button topics such as immigration and gun control to inflame tensions between Americans. The fake accounts also promote certain candidates up for election or advocate the defeat for others.
In response, Twitter and Facebook have been shutting down scores of fake accounts they suspect are tied to the Russian disinformation campaigns. However, the US Cyber Command operation tries to go beyond the Whac-A-Mole approach by talking to the Russian state-sponsored trolls directly. Effectively, the US government is telling the Russian operatives to tread lightly. Time will tell if any of this works.