Russia Accused of Using Social Media to Incite Pipeline Project Protests

March 1, 2018, 7:07 PM UTC

Russian operatives used inflammatory social media posts to disrupt U.S. energy policy, including inciting environmentalists to protest against pipeline projects, House Republicans said in a report released Thursday.

The report, released by the majority staff of the House Science Committee, said it found evidence Russian-sponsored agents used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to suppress the research and development of fossil fuels and stymie efforts to expand the use of natural gas.

“This report reveals that Russian agents created and spread propaganda on U.S. social media platforms in an obvious attempt to influence the U.S. energy market,” Texas Representative Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, said in a statement. “Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking and climate change.”

According to the report, groups such as the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with links to the Russian government, used propaganda to target Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline, TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, and other projects. Russian-sponsored agents also funneled money to U.S. environmental groups in an attempt to portray energy companies in a negative way and disrupt domestic energy markets, the report said.

A spokeswoman for Democrats on the committee said they didn’t participate in the report and are reviewing it.

GMO Coverage

The St. Petersburg, Russia-based research agency was accused in a series of indictments last month of using social media, including by impersonating Americans, to shape U.S. opinions about the 2016 election.

Separately, a study released by Iowa State University said English-language Russian media coverage of agricultural issues “fits the profile” of an effort to amplify controversy regarding genetically modified food.

Articles discussing biotech seeds sold by Monsanto Co., Syngenta AG and others published in RT and Sputnik, two state-funded Russian news outlets, were almost uniformly negative compared to a spectrum of U.S. sources ranging from Huffington Post to Breitbart News, according to an article published on SocArXiv, an open-source academic research site, on Feb. 27.

Russia, which has surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s leading exporter of wheat, has banned production and imports of genetically modified crops. It’s rebranding its agriculture as “ecologically clean” as a contrast with countries such as the U.S. and Brazil, which allow modern gene-modification technology in plant production, particularly for corn and soybeans. GMO skepticism is also prevalent in Europe, creating a potential “wedge issue” between the U.S. and its allies., according to the study.

The Russian outlets also covered GMOs with much greater frequency than U.S.-based media and more often used the term as “clickbait,” a way to draw readers toward articles that had little to do with the topic, according to the study.