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In blow to conspiracy theories, study finds 'no evidence' Russian social media swayed voters in 2016

Findings suggest "limits of election interference campaigns."

Published: January 10, 2023 12:17pm

Updated: January 10, 2023 12:38pm

A study out of New York University this month declares that reported Russian social media efforts to shift the 2016 election had little meaningful effect on the behaviors of U.S. voters, dealing yet another blow to conspiracy theorists who have alleged for years significant Russian influence over that race.

The study, carried out by NYU researchers with help from scientists from Ireland and Denmark, used "longitudinal survey data from US respondents linked to their Twitter feeds" in order to "quantify the relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and attitudes and voting behavior in the 2016 US election."

The researchers found "no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior."

The study also determined that "exposure to Russian disinformation accounts was heavily concentrated" with "only 1% of users account[ing] for 70% of exposures," while "exposure to the Russian influence campaign" was also "eclipsed by content from domestic news media and politicians."

The findings "have implications for understanding the limits of election interference campaigns on social media," the researchers said.

The study comes as yet another refutation of what many partisans and commentators have alleged was an unfair election with interference from, and "collusion" with, Russia unfairly tilting the race in favor of Donald Trump. 

In early 2019 a years-long investigation and special counsel determined that the Trump campaign had not colluded with Russia in spite of several years' worth of pervasive conspiracy theories alleging that the campaign had done so.

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