How the Kremlin Tried to Pose as American News Sites on Twitter


The Kremlin-backed Russian Internet Research Agency operated dozens of Twitter accounts masquerading as local American news sources that collectively garnered more than half-a-million followers. More than 100 news outlets also published stories containing those handles in the run-up to the election, and some of them were even tweeted by a top presidential aide. These news imposter accounts, which are part of the 2,752 now-suspended accounts that Twitter has publicly disclosed to be tied to the IRA, show how the Russian group sought to build local communities of followers to disseminate messages.

Many of the news imposter accounts amassed their following by tweeting headlines from real news sites, while others sought to represent certain communities. They targeted a diverse set of regions across the political spectrum, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Several of the accounts were impersonating local news outlets in swing states, like @TodayPittsburgh, @TodayMiami and @TodayCincinnati.

There were about 40 news imposter accounts out of the 2,752 Twitter accounts that the company identified as being tied to the IRA. Twitter has deactivated all of those accounts and removed any data on the accounts from third-party sources. Information on the details of the accounts was gathered from Meltwater, a data intelligence firm that monitors social media. Details on the contents of the tweets are from Facebook posts that were synced with the users’ Twitter accounts. Some of the followers of the accounts could be bots, and the same bots or users could have followed multiple imposter accounts.

The Kremlin-backed Russian Internet Research Agency operated dozens of Twitter accounts masquerading as local American news sources that collectively garnered more than half-a-million followers. More than 100 news outlets also published stories containing those handles in the run-up to the election, and some of them were even tweeted by a top presidential aide. These news imposter accounts, which are part of the 2,752 now-suspended accounts that Twitter has publicly disclosed to be tied to the IRA, show how the Russian group sought to build local communities of followers to disseminate messages.

Many of the news imposter accounts amassed their following by tweeting headlines from real news sites, while others sought to represent certain communities. They targeted a diverse set of regions across the political spectrum, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Several of the accounts were impersonating local news outlets in swing states, like @TodayPittsburgh, @TodayMiami and @TodayCincinnati.

There were about 40 news imposter accounts out of the 2,752 Twitter accounts that the company identified as being tied to the IRA. Twitter has deactivated all of those accounts and removed any data on the accounts from third-party sources. Information on the details of the accounts was gathered from Meltwater, a data intelligence firm that monitors social media. Details on the contents of the tweets are from Facebook posts that were synced with the users’ Twitter accounts. Some of the followers of the accounts could be bots, and the same bots or users could have followed multiple imposter accounts.

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