Russian government agents working out of the St. Petersberg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) used dozens of fake accounts disguised as local US media outlets to exploit Americans’ trust in local news, according to an explosive new report.
An NPR report found that the IRA operated at least 48 social media accounts disguised as U.S.-based local media organizations, including @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post.
“A not-insignificant amount of those had some sort of variation on what appeared to be a homegrown local news site,” said Bret Schafer, a social media analyst for the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
“The Russians are playing a long game. They’ve developed a presence on social media. They’ve created these fictitious persons and fictitious organizations that have built up over a period of time a certain trustworthiness among people that follow them,” House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told the news outlet.
The accounts, one of which was opened as early as May of 2014, were shut down by Twitter after years of posting real news stories.
None of the accounts reviewed by NPR appear to have been used so far to spread disinformation and may have been created to use in some future operation.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told NPR that the fake accounts demonstrated Russia’s ongoing effort to interfere in future U.S. elections.
“This effort is not over,” she said. “It continues to this very day, where the Russians are trying to sow the seeds of discontent in our society, take advantage of the polarization that exists.”