SAN FRANCISCO — Disguised Russian agents on Twitter hurried to divert scandalous information about Donald Trump before the presidential election whilst straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign of last year, according to an Associated Press investigation of since-deleted reports.
Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, knowingly pivoted away from news of a sound recording where Trump made crude remarks about groping women, and rather touted harmful emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion harm Clinton in the election and to help Trump has been the subject of scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are currently looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump effort along with the Russians.
AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy supporting the cyber meddling: quickly react, distort and divert attention from any negative Trump news.
The AP analyzed 36,210 tweets from Aug. 31, 2015, to Nov. 10, 2016, posted by 382 of the Russian reports that Twitter shared with congressional investigators a week. The accounts were deactivated by twitter, making them inaccessible online and deleting the tweets. But a limited choice of the accounts’ Twitter activity was recovered by matching account manages against an archive.
“MSM (the mainstream media) is at it again with Billy Bush recording … What about telling Americans the way Hillary defended a rapist and afterwards laughed at his victim?” Tweeted the America_1st. The tweet went out the afternoon of Oct. 7, just hours after The Washington Post broke the story about Trump’s remarks to Bush, then host of “Access Hollywood,” about kissing, groping and attempting to have sex with girls, stating, “when you are a celebrity, they allow you to do it”
Within an hour of the Post’s story, WikiLeaks unleashed its own bombshell about hacked email from Podesta’s account, a release the Russian accounts had been foreshadowing for the days.
“WikiLeaks’ Assange indicates launch of files before U.S. election,” tweeted both “SpecialAffair” and “ScreamyMonkey” within a second of one another on Oct. 4. “SpecialAffair,” an accounts describing itself as a “Political junkie in action,”‘d 11,255 followers in the moment. “ScreamyMonkey,” self-described as a “Initial frontier.News aggregator,”‘d 13,224. Both accounts were made within three days of one another in late December 2014.
Twitter handed over the handles of 2,752 accounts it identified as coming from Russia’s Internet Research Agency to congressional investigators ahead of the social networking giant Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 appearances on Capitol Hill. It stated 9 percent of the tweets were election-related but did not make the tweets themselves public.
This makes the archive the AP obtained the most comprehensive historical picture so much of Russian action on Twitter in the crucial run-up to the Nov. 8, 2016, vote. Twitter policy requires programmers who archive its substance to delete tweets from suspended accounts as soon as reasonably possible, unless this would violate the law or Twitter grants an exception. It’s possible the existence of the deleted tweets from the archive obtained by the AP runs afoul of these rules.
The Russian accounts didn’t just spring into action at the last moment. They were similarly active at previous points in the effort.
When Trump reversed himself on a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace on Sept. 17, announcing abruptly that Obama “was born in america, span,” several Russian accounts chimed in to echo Trump’s subsequent false claim that it was Clinton who had started that the birther controversy.
Others continued to push birther narratives. The Russian accounts TEN_GOP, which many mistook for the official accounts of the Tennessee Republican Party, linked into a video that asserted that Obama “admits that he had been born in Kenya.” Nevertheless, the Russian accounts were not in lockstep. The manage “hyddrox” retweeted a article by the anti-Trump billionaire Mark Cuban that the “MSM (mainstream media) has been suckered into chasing birther stories”
On Sept. 15, Clinton returned to the campaign trail following a bout with pneumonia which caused her to shout in a 9/11 memorial services. The Russian accounts “Pamela_Moore13” noticed that her intro music was “I Feel Good” by James Brown — subsequently observed that “James Brown died of pneumonia,” a line that was repeated at least 11 occasions by Russian balances, including by “Jenn_Abrams,” which had 59,868 followers in the time.
According to many obituaries, Brown died of congestive heart failure linked to pneumonia.
Racial discord also figured prominently in the tweets, just as it did with many of the ads Russian trolls had purchased in the months leading up to and following the election. One Russian account, “Blacks4DTrump,” tweeted a Trump quote on Sept. 16 in which he announced “it is the Democratic party that is the party of slavery, the celebration of Jim Crow & the party of opposition”
TEN_GOP, meanwhile, asked followers to “SPREAD that the msg of black warrior describing why African-Americans must vote Donald Trump!”