FACT CHECK: Russian Trolls Aided #NoDAPL Protesters

CLAIM: Russian agents used social media to undermine the U.S. energy infrastructure projects.



A 2018 congressional report detailed how Russian agents utilized social media to undermine U.S. energy policy, including approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Investigators with the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology found that between 2015 and 2017, “an estimated 9,097 Russian posts or tweets regarding U.S. energy policy or a current energy event,” including the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, appeared on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Pipelines and domestic energy infrastructure were a primary target of the Russian agents. Specifically, several posts encouraged protests of pipeline construction, which is illustrative of the Kremlin’s indiscriminate efforts to influence U.S. energy policy. Numerous posts, for example, directly targeted the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The posts emphasized and exacerbated the alleged violent nature of the DAPL protests. Additionally, several Russian posts focused on the counter-narrative and sought to exploit anti-activist sentiment by propagating content supportive of pipeline construction efforts, illustrating once again the Kremlin’s indiscriminate efforts to cause discord and disruption.

The report identified numerous social media accounts linked to Russia’s disinformation campaign, including a Facebook page called “Born Liberal.” In one post, curators of the malicious account shared a meme falsely alleging that law enforcement, among other things, “shot a 13-year-old girl in head” during a protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A meme shared by a Russian-linked Facebook page falsely alleges law enforcement “shot a 13-year-old girl in head” during a protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On Twitter, the report exposed how Russia sought to amplify online petitions seeking to halt the project. In one instance, a foreign-linked account retweeted a tweet from @BERNintoNITE that encouraged followers to sign a CREDO Mobile petition to “Tell @POTUS to stop the Dakota Access pipeline.”

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith cited increasing U.S. energy exports to Europe as key factor motivating Russia’s attempts to derail American energy markets.

Russia benefits from stirring up controversy about U.S. energy production. U.S. energy exports to European countries are increasing, which means they will have less reason to rely upon Russia for their energy needs. This, in turn, will reduce Russia’s influence on Europe to Russia’s detriment and Europe’s benefit. That’s why Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking and climate change.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was just one of a multitude of targets for Russian-propagated social media posts. Other victims included the Sable Trail, Keystone XL, Bayou Bridge, Colonial, and Trans-Pecos pipelines.