Potemkin Pages & Personas: Assessing GRU Online Operations, 2014-2019
Upon request by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), researchers reviewed a data set of social media posts that Facebook provided to SSCI. Facebook attributed the material to the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Главное управление Генерального штаба Вооружённых сил Российской Федерации), known as the GU, or by its prior abbreviation GRU, which we will use throughout this document. The data set was provided to SSCI in response to a Committee inquiry about GRU activities on Facebook.
Facebook attributed this collection of 28 folders of data, each consisting of the contents of at least one unique Facebook Page, to the GRU. This report quantifies and contextualizes the material in that data set. It includes a background overview of GRU tactics and methods, a collection of summary statistics, and a set of key takeaways about several distinct operational clusters that are then discussed in detail later in the document. These clusters include the creation of fake personas, publications, and organizations to aid in the dissemination of Russian government narratives; operations targeting Ukraine; operations targeting the United States; and hack-and-leak operations.
The Pages in this data set were taken down in accordance with Facebook’s policy on inauthentic activity and are no longer visible to the public. While some content related to these operations has been unearthed by investigative journalists, a substantial amount has not been seen by the public in the context of GRU attribution. Much of it, as we will discuss, has ties to material that remains accessible elsewhere on the broader internet. We have attempted to aggregate and archive that broader expanse of data for public viewing and in service to further academic research.
This publication and its conclusions are in part based on the analysis of social media content that was provided to the authors by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under the auspices of the Committee’s Technical Advisory Group, whose Members serve to provide substantive technical and expert advice on topics of importance to ongoing Committee activity and oversight. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions presented herein are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or its Membership.