As early as 2014, Russian operatives working out of the Internet Research Agency (IRC) in St. Petersburg were busy creating fake Twitter accounts for U.S. local news organizations that did not exist.
Their goal was to exploit the trust Americans place in local news.
Russia exploited that trust for years by sharing real news through those bogus accounts, before using the same accounts to spread 'fake news,' or more accurately, disinformation intended to damage American interests.
From a report out today by Tim Mak at NPR:
NPR has reviewed information connected with the investigation and found 48 such accounts. They have names such as @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post.
(…) Another example: The Internet Research Agency created an account that looks like it is the Chicago Daily News. That newspaper shuttered in 1978.
The Internet Research Agency-linked account was created in May 2014, and for years, it just posted local headlines, accumulating some 19,000 followers by July 2016.
Another twist: These accounts apparently never spread misinformation. In fact, they posted real local news, serving as sleeper accounts building trust and readership for some future, unforeseen effort.
Also this week, Twitter announced plans to kill a large number of bot/fake accounts, in an effort to make the platform less vulnerable to the *ongoing* disinformation campaign, as Americans prepare to vote in the 2018 midterm elections this November.
'Russian Influence Campaign Sought To Exploit Americans' Trust In Local News' [NPR]