Russian Propaganda Hits Its Mark: Experimentally Testing the Impact of Russian Propaganda and Counter-Interventions

Given the size and scope of the Russian propaganda campaign that targeted the U.S. electorate in 2016, it is critical to understand both the impact of that campaign and the mechanisms that can reduce the impact of future campaigns. This report, the third in a four-part series, describes a study conducted by RAND researchers to assess how people react to and engage with Russia’s online propaganda and to determine whether the negative effects of that engagement can be mitigated by brief media literacy advisories or by labeling the source of the propaganda. Russia targets the extremes on both sides of the political divide, and a short media literacy video and labeling intervention were both shown to reduce willingness among particular categories of participants (defined by news consumption habits) to “like” the propaganda.

This is one of the first studies to show that Russian propaganda content works, at least partially, as it is intended to — that is, it successfully elicits strong partisan responses that may help it exacerbate divisions in American society. For certain audiences, the content is also likeable and sharable. This study is among the first to use actual Russian propaganda in a randomized controlled trial.

This research was sponsored by California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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