Research by a U.S. journalist investigating Russian propaganda indicates that the Kremlin has been promoting the presidential prospects of GOP nominee Donald Trump online by using paid social media accounts posing as American conservatives.
On July 27, journalist Adrian Chen recounted in The New Yorker his experience investigating Internet Research Agency, an online propaganda operation formulated by Evgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Chen characterized the operation as a “troll farm,” or a coordinated army of fake social media accounts used to blanket the internet with propaganda.
For six months spanning from 2014 to 2015, Chen delved into the operation and found that it spread information and opinions on the internet that were sympathetic and advantageous to the Putin government.
The journalist kept tabs on a number of the fake accounts and reported back a disturbing new trend in December 2015.
“I created this list of Russian trolls when I was researching,” Chen recounted during a podcast sit-down, according to Business Insider. "And I check on it once in a while, still. And a lot of them have turned into conservative accounts, like fake conservatives. I don’t know what’s going on, but they’re all tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff."
During that time, the GOP primary had yet to hold state contests.
Brian Fallon, campaign spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has accused Trump of having a suspicious relationship with the Russian government.
“His fascination and admiration for Vladimir Putin is quite peculiar,” Fallon told CNN. “He has taken policy positions that are clearly seeing to advance Russia’s interests against the interests of our European allies.”
In the past month, Trump has stated he would not use U.S. power to intervene on behalf of a NATO ally threatened by Russian expansion unless they contributed more money. The business mogul has also suggested that the U.S. should ally with Russia to fight terrorism.
Following the Russian hack of the Democratic National Convention in May and the subsequent release of DNC emails on the website WikiLeaks, Trump sparked controversy when he invited Russian intelligence to search for and release deleted emails from Clinton’s email server.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the thirty thousand e-mails that are missing,” Trump said during a July 27 press conference in Miami, CNBC reports.
Russian involvement in the WikiLeaks dumping of DNC emails has yet to be proven, but cyber security specialists have warned that evidence indicates Russia could be attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“The DNC hack and dump is what cyberwar looks like,” said Dave Aitel of cyber security firm Immunity, Inc, according to Business Insider.