Vladmir Putin’s presidential election win over the weekend came with the help of clever voter fraud, his opponents claim. For a brief time Sunday night, his critics had a high-ranking American ally who agreed—or so they thought.
A Twitter user took advantage of a typographical flaw in the service to pose as United States ambassador Michael McFaul and briefly wrought havoc in the Russian Twittersphere.
“Observers inform us of a large amount of violations at polling stations throughout the country, casting doubt on the poll’s legitimacy,” the impostor tweeted in Russian on Sunday.
That tweet—from a supposed official U.S. representative—raised the hackles of the Russian establishment. The editor in chief of Russia Today, the Kremlin-funded English language TV station, quickly jumped in to criticize the supposed ambassador.
“He said that???” Arkady Dvorkovich, the Kremlin’s top economic aide replied.
He didn’t, and Simonyan and Dvorkovich quickly acknowledged the mistake.
“I’m in shock. People are writing to me to tell me it’s fake. I hope so,” Simonyan tweeted.
On Twitter an upper case “i” looks exactly the same as a lower case “L.” Since McFaul’s Twitter handle is simply @McFaul, it was easy for the prankster to wreak confusion. Twitter has since suspended the fake account.
The real McFaul (sorry, McFauL), was quick to quash the rumors on his verified Twitter account: “Today,watched son play basketball & then worked out, nothing more. Will let experts judge elections”
He added: “@McFauI This is a false account. You all obviously know I dont write that well in Russian!”