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Russian-linked Twitter accounts amassed 500K followers by posing as local news outlets

Photo via AlesiaKan/Shutterstock (Licensed)

At least 40 faux accounts amassed half a million followers.

Dozens of fake Twitter accounts linked to the Kremlin-backed Russia Internet Research Agency posed as American news outlets to influence the U.S. presidential election, according to a Bloomberg report.

Of the 2,752 troll accounts Twitter publicly handed to the U.S. intelligence committee, at least 40 claimed to be local news sites, many in swing states. Their names were undoubtedly convincing: @TodayPittsburgh, @TodayMiami, and @TodayCincinnati. These accounts amassed some 500,000 followers and were cited over 100 times in stories by real news organizations. Some political aides even spread the fake information to sow discord ahead of last year’s election.

Donald Trump’s former deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka retweeted posts from Russia-linked account @tpartynews, including one that read, “The era of the pajama boy is over January 20th and the alpha males are back.” Even legitimate news sites fell victim. One month after the election, the Washington Post included an embedded tweet from fake account @ChicagoDailyNew. It later removed the post and published a correction.

“We take seriously reports that the power of our service was misused by a foreign actor for the purpose of influencing the U.S. presidential election and undermining public faith in the democratic process,” Twitter told Bloomberg. “Twitter believes that any activity of that kind—regardless of magnitude—is intolerable, and we agree that we must do better to prevent it.”

The report says these groups grew their followings by publishing headlines of real news outlets, like the New York Times, or by acting as though they were representing a local community. They were found to be posing as media outlets in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston, among other major U.S. cities. While these fake accounts published both pro-liberal and pro-conservative views, their goal was to push Americans to the far ends of the political spectrum. For example, @redlanews, with its 10,000 followers, considered itself, “Conservative; Right and proud; Christian.” and wrote in its bio “Love my country and will stand against liberals and socialists.”

Other imposters exploited social movements to incite anger. The fake account @BlackNewsOutlet, with more than 40,000 followers, tweeted,”Freedom is never given; it is won. #BlackLivesMatter.” Some trolls even tried to get phrases like “voter fraud” or “rigged election” trending on election night, expecting Hillary Clinton to win.

Twitter reportedly deactivated all the accounts, none of which were verified.

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.