Within days of President Donald Trump’s summer rally in Phoenix, Twitter shut down an account that had spread a hoax post about the crowds at the event.
The post included photos that appeared to show Trump supporters massively outnumbering protesters. It was actually a photo of the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 victory parade.
Now several news outlets are reporting the account, which boasted nearly 150,000 followers, was actually run by Russian operatives. The account was operated by a Kremlin-linked "troll farm," which is a team of people paid to push certain content.
@TEN_GOP posted a flurry of posts daily. The content sharply criticized Democrats and fiercely supported Trump, and featured a number of far-right conspiracy theories, according to internet archives.
The account posted or shared several rebukes of Senator John McCain and weighed in on the vandalism of an Arizona Confederate monument.
"Jefferson Davis Confederate monument in Arizona was vandalized, tarred and feathered. Tearing down monuments doesn't change history!" @TEN_GOP wrote in August.
@TEN_GOP’s content reached some of the nation’s most influential people. Celebrities, media personalities and some of the president’s top advisers retweeted its posts, including Michael Flynn and Kellyanne Conway.
There is no evidence any of them knew the account was operated by Russian propagandists, according to the Washington Post.
The account claimed to be the “Unofficial Twitter of Tennessee Republicans.” Many mistakenly thought it was affiliated with the Tennessee Republican Party, according to the party’s executive director Michael Sullivan.
“It's just so easy to create fake content that everyone wants to share and it's a shame that good content that is real and accurate isn't being shared at the same levels,” he said.
The party’s real account, @TNGOP, has roughly one-tenth the followers of the fake one.
Sullivan said the party reported the imposter account three times, beginning in August 2016. Twitter shut down the account shortly after their third complaint in August 2017.
“It’s frustrating,” he said.
Twitter has not commented.
“Hopefully this serves as a good lesson for everyone on Twitter – Republicans, Democrats, everyone in between – that we have to be aware of what accounts are tweeting what out. What's real and what's fake,” Sullivan said.
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