The Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and their effort to tilt the contest in Donald Trump’s favor was more sophisticated and far-reaching than previously believed. There is growing evidence that Russia used Twitter to try and influence public opinion during the 2016 U.S. election.
According to a bombshell CNN report, Russia created several fake, pro-Trump Twitter accounts, which were then followed by Trump’s officials, in order to swey the election.
One of those fake accounts was @tpartynews. As noted by CNN’s Drew Griffin, @tpartynews looked as American as could be. A Twitter account, its profile photo on the site was a “Tea Party” teapot in the colors of the American flag. Its cover photo was an image of the U.S. Constitution.
In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, @tpartynews posted pro-Trump, conservative and anti-immigrant messages. It regularly retweeted Fox News, Ann Coulter and other conservative Twitter accounts. And 22,000 accounts followed it — one of them Trump’s close associate and former White House advisor Sebastian Gorka.
But @tpartynews wasn’t American. It was part of a Russian propaganda operation, according to Russian journalists who discovered the link.
Those journalists discovered that @tpartynews was linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, a shadowy news service with ties to the Kremlin —one of up to 50 such twitter accounts which collectively had more than 600,000 followers.
The Internet Research Agency was also the group linked to $100,000 worth of politically-themed ads purchased on Facebook during the 2016 election, the existence of which Facebook disclosed to Congress and the public earlier this month.
As with Facebook, part of the Russian propaganda campaign during the election involved the creation of an entire army of trolls and automated “bots” on Twitter, which together overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, according to two reports by US intelligence agencies.
Most of these accounts were “made to look like Trump supporters, but actually, begin and end in Russia,” says Samuel Wooley, the director of the Computational Propaganda project at the Oxford Internet Institute.
Wooley says getting influential social media users to follow Russian propaganda accounts was an important part of the disinformation campaign.
Sebastian Gorka has that kind of influence and he was following @tpartynews. From January until he was pushed out in August, Gorka served as a deputy assistant to President Trump. He was a frequent guest on television and talk radio and an avid Twitter user.
CNN’s Drew Griffin has more on this report in the video below: