Instagram was a vital tool used by Russian trolls to influence voters in the 2016 presidential election, a new Senate report claims.

The study concluded that the Facebook-owned platform played a more important role than Facebook itself, even though the extent of this role has not been previously discussed by the company, Bloomberg reported.

Instagram, the Senate report warned,  will be a key target of the Russian Internet Research Agency in the 2020 elections.

The Internet Research Agency, widely regarded as a troll factory, is accused of seeking to manipulate US voters with fake accounts, memes and false information during the run-up to the 2016 elections. It found more engagement with users on Instagram than on any other social media platform, including Facebook, according to the report, which was commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Instagram was a significant front in the Internet Research Agency’s influence operation, something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in Congressional testimony,” the report said.

Internet Research Agency activity shifted there after the media began to write about Russian activity on Twitter and Facebook.

Analysts found there were 187 million interactions with content on Instagram, compared with 77 million on Facebook, and 73 million on Twitter, according to an analysis of posts between 2015 and 2018.

Researchers concluded the fact that Instagram outperformed Facebook for the Internet Research Agency could “be an indicator of the platform being more ideal for memetic warfare” – influencing opinion using memes that are shared.

Instagram differs from Facebook in the way content is organized by interest and hashtags. It’s also based on photos and videos far more than text. The report added that the Internet Research Agency may have also used click farms to boost numbers.

As Bloomberg reported, Instagram has up to now largely avoided any Internet Research Agency-related controversy, mainly because there’s no ‘share’ button on accounts, which means content doesn’t go viral as it can on Facebook.

However, Instagram content successfully sparked conversation and acted to embolden Donald Trump supporters at the expense of Hillary Clinton.

Around 40% of Instagram accounts set up by the Internet Research Agency had over 10,000 followers, with the biggest, @blackstagram, achieving 303,663 followers. The researchers concluded this account may have used e-commerce to make money or gather information about US voters.

Sourced from Bloomberg