On Tuesday morning, ThinkProgress broke the news that a new website claiming to tamper with the midterm elections was created by a Russian company mentioned in one of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments.
And by Tuesday evening, Facebook announced that it had removed over 100 accounts — many on Instagram — associated with the website, and presumably with Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA).
“Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy, said in a statement. “This evening a website claiming to be associated with the IRA published a list of Instagram accounts they claim to have created.”
The website, which claimed to provide the “Official Statement of the Internet Research Agency,” went live over the weekend. It was created by Azimut LLC, one of the LLCs mentioned in Mueller’s February 2018 indictment identifying a number of Russian nationals as responsible for Russia’s 2016 social media interference campaign.
On Tuesday evening, the website published an additional statement. “Facebook and intelligence agencies tried to stop us but they only managed to uncover 1/25 of the whole picture,” the page read. The page then listed dozens of Instagram accounts — some of which were already suspended, but some of which remained live as of Tuesday evening.
The topics of the pages, as with other Russian social media interference attempts, ran wide. Some claimed to be in support of feminists (“Feminism, Inc.”) while others aimed at LGBTQ communities (“LGBTQ Daily”).
Many aimed at fans of certain celebrities, both entertainers and nominal “intellectuals” among certain corners of the right. Among the topics of the pages now removed:
- Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher
- Jennifer Lawrence, Nicki Minaj, and the Kardashians
- Milo Yiannopoulos and Steven Crowder, far-right provocateurs
- Joe Rogan, a well-known podcaster
- Jordan Peterson, a controversial psychology professor
- Tomi Lahren, a self-described political analyst
Likewise, the pages spanned the political spectrum. Many were aimed at conservatives, with pages like “F U Libtards,” “Against Libtards,” and “Ladies, Booze and Firearms.” One, for instance, was called “Outraged Patriot,” and appeared aimed at supporters of Donald Trump:
Many, unsurprisingly, also aimed at Democrats and liberals, with pages like “New Blue Wave” now taken down. One, “People Speak,” targeted those opposing racism, with a bio reading “Smash White Supremacy.” The page took particular interest in those supportive of socialism and antifa.
Another page, “Black Business,” claimed to post material related to African-American business accomplishments. “We support #blackdollar and celebrate #blackexcellence and #blackhistory,” the account’s bio read. Other similar pages were “Black Roots,” “Black Boy Joy,” and “Black Nation.”
Some of the accounts now removed even had nothing much to do with anything. One of the listed accounts, “Things I hate,” was apparently dedicated to “People problems.” “Let’s get this goin’,” the page read. (The page never got going, as it never posted anything.)
Followers and reach
While many of the pages had few followers, there were a handful that managed to obtain significant traction on Instagram, often posting memes aimed at stoking support among those in the target audiences.
One account now removed, “Republican Man Cave,” had nearly 10,000 followers, posting only pro-Trump material, while “MAGA People” managed to land over 20,000 followers. Another account taken down, “Intersectional Feminism,” had nearly 4,000 followers. (The page’s bio: “We all have a Wonder Woman inside us.”) A second page aimed at feminists, “Feminism 4Ever,” had even more, with nearly 28,000 followers.
Two of the most popular page identified thus far were devoted to a pair of musicians: Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar. The @riri_one_love account managed to accrue a massive following, with over 80,000 accounts following the page before it was pulled down. The @kendrick_dna_ account managed to obtain even more, coming in at some 86,000 followers.
But the most popular account was dedicated to a comedian: John Oliver. The “John Oliver Explains” account is the only page thus far identified that had over 100,000 followers.
Another popular page was “ProBlack Afrocentrism,” which also appeared to aim at African-Americans. With a #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in its bio and the Black Panther as its profile picture, the page racked up some 12,500 followers. The page, “Dope Blackness,” had even more, with over 35,000 following.
While the accounts are now down, they managed to escape Facebook’s identification methods for at least a year, and potentially longer. Despite Facebook’s claims about increased security protocols — and despite preemptive takedowns elsewhere — the company apparently let over 100 more accounts slip through its detection systems, all the way to and through the 2018 election.
After all, it’s not as if these accounts went up overnight. As the first “ProBlack Afrocentrism” post wrote, “Happy Thanksgiving from Barry,” posting a picture of the Obama family. The date it went up? Nov. 23, 2017.