Following the example of the Cold War, which had split the world in two in the years 45 to 90, the current global context reveals a real war of influence between two major powers, namely the United States and Russia.

    In 2016, the United States underwent an historical decision, indeed the americans chose their 45th president. The final choice was between Republican and billionaire Donald Trump and former US First Lady Hillary Clinton. 

    The outcome of this vote caused an international shock as Trump’s reactionary and conservative right won. Following this election, many American citizens contested the vote and it was only after an investigation into the collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Russia that the Russian influence on the Internet was revealed; in particular via social networks in favour of the establishment of Trump. 

    A US Senate report revealed the extent of Russian interference campaign in support of Donald Trump and talked about 126 million users affected by IRA posts.

    The IRA is a Russian governmental agency engaged in online influence operations on the behalf of Russian government. The report underlined that the agency used fake accounts on social networks or forums in order to influence votes in favor of Donald Trump.
The IRA has never been explicitly mentioned but the concordance with old stories according to which the IRA has a direct link with the Kremlin and has worked in the past to support Putin’s policy around the world.

    Alex Stamos, Facekook’s head of security, said in September 2017 that a group Russian (probably) bought $100,000 worth of advertising on sensitive American issues during the 2016 election campaign that was Trump’s business, such as immigration and unemployment.

    Russia has always denied these accusations, repeatedly stating that these accusations were invented to “delegitimize Donald Trump”. “All this was invented by people in opposition to Trump to delegitimize his work.” 

    To further this research, the US will open an investigation in October 2016 as suspicions have been clearly highlighted by DINI (Director of National Intelligence) in a letter. 

    The clues that are gathered by the investigation indicate as reliable the fact that Russia helped WikiLeaks obtain private emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign team. Despite the fact that the conclusions are not public today, the NYorker’s investigation shows that Russian online propaganda was conducted by a “troll factory”, that means a propaganda company controlling an account in order to simulate mass citizen movements. This technique had been used by Russia on multiple occasions, like in 2011 to counter popular “anti Putin” demonstrations.

    There is a real influence that has been made, including through surveys the impact that social networks have on an election. Jeune Afrique reports the result of an American study published in December 2016, according to which “64% of Americans felt that these fake news caused great confusion in their minds during the campaign“. 

    Facebook has conducted various experiments to study the impact that its news feed could have on voter behaviour. One experiment in particular shows that in 2010, during the mid-term elections in the United States, the famous social network selected 61 million users to measure Facebook on electoral choices during the elections.

    There is a real shift in Internet elections, particularly in the behaviour of voters who tend to get more and more information through the Internet. But also candidates since they are betting on an internalized campaign, this means that they are now aware that their electoral activity on social networks allows them to reach citizens much more broadly.

There is therefore a huge impact to be had by monitoring the opinions of users of new technologies, but can we condemn a state for its actions on the Internet? 

    Edward Snowden, the famous American whistleblower, began to answer this question by saying, “If Russia has hacked into the DNC, it must be held accountable for its actions. But during Sony’s hacking, the FBI had at least presented evidence” unlike this case where the evidence is difficult to find since we are in a dematerialized space where everyone can be anonymous and difficult to trace. 

    According to Nicolas Arpagian, an expert in cybersecurity, “we are still talking about political and solemn declarations. But no evidence, no formal, indisputable element has yet been provided that materializes the conditions of the attack. For the moment, we are only faced with concordant elements that suggest that: Does Russia have the capacity to do so? Yes. Has she done it in the past? Yes. Does she better do it? Yes, knowing Putin’s culture, intelligence man and his views on Clinton and Trump. But there is no proof.” 

    Despite the accusations, deterrence campaigns are not controlled and give rise to wars of influence by networks. 

Anaïs Cathala
Master 2 Cyberjustice – Promotion 2018-2019

A propos de