Can You See the Lying Russian Trolls Playing You for a Fool?
Would you believe that lying Russian trolls did their damndest to help elect Donald Trump as President of the United States? I didn’t realize it at the time but I know now it’s true.
Would you believe that lying Russian trolls are still continuing their attacks on America even today, this very minute? I didn’t realize it myself until I saw it for myself on July 31, 2017 but I now know it’s true.
Would you believe that lying Russian trolls can achieve next-level influence by getting real Americans to turn off their TVs and attend anti-immigrant rallies that Russians created and promoted on Facebook? I wouldn’t have believed it a month ago but I now know it’s true.
Now would you believe that lying Russian trolls are now doing their damndest to stir up anti-Muslim hate and violence here in the U.S.?
Would you believe that lying Russian trolls are encouraging real Americans to kill Muslims and “let God sort them out”?
I’ve known for years that Putin’s Russia is amoral. As soon as I realized that Russia was continuing its information operation attacks on the U.S., I understood that Putin’s Russia wants to sow discord by promoting and exploiting divisions in our society. Yet even though I realized that Russia was using trolls and bots to stir up hate, I didn’t believe that even Putin’s Russia would be so amoral, so evil as to encourage Americans to murder one another.
Even just a week ago I wouldn’t have conceived that Putin’s Russia seeks to incite the mass murder of Muslims here in the U.S. yet . . .
I now know it’s true.
Just jump in and take a ride with me for a few posts and you’ll know it too.
This is the story of @GrumpysToy. Grumpy isn’t a particularly important Russian troll in and of himself. In fact, looking at him alone, he seems totally inconsequential. He’s been on Twitter for less than two years and has fewer than 250 followers. I had never even glanced at him until one week ago, last Sunday October 1, 2017.
Yet Grumpy turns out to be an important Russian troll for one primary reason — Grumpy was the first Russian troll I’ve seen encourage some Americans to kill other Americans. In particular, as you’ll see, Grumpy is virulently anti-Muslim. He wants loyal Americans to hate Muslim-Americans and Muslim refugees. More than that, he aims to provoke violence, even murder, against Muslims.
More importantly, Grumpy isn’t alone. He’s a soldier in Russia’s vast troll armies teeming with 100,000s of trolls and bots. He works in tandem with a large densely-connected network of right-wing Russian trolls to sow discord and plant the seeds of hate and murder attempting to turning American against American simply because one American is Christian and another worships Allah.
Let me start this series of posts by recounting how I crossed paths with Grumpy in the first place. When I joined Twitter in July 2017, I tweeted at first on purely legal and political issues, not having a clue that vast flocks of Russian trolls and bots were flitting about all around me spreading disinformation.
The chatter at the time was about pardons so I turned my attention to that issue, tweeting about whether President Trump can pardon in secret or pardon traitors. If these issues happen to interest you, you’re welcome to read my threads on these subjects, which I collected in my last post, Can Trump Pardon Traitors?
Since I was tweeting about pardons and treason, I had searched in late July 2017 to see what other peeps were saying on the same subject. While I didn’t pay heed to it then, I saw that lots of peeps tweeting about pardons and treason were claiming that John McCain’s a traitor. The suggestion that John McCain — a highly decorated Naval aviator who endured brutal beatings and torture as a P.O.W., leaving him disabled to this day—is a traitor was so bizarre, even more so than Donald Trump’s fatuous remarks, that I simply ignored those tweets. The thought didn’t occur to me in the slightest at the time that these peeps tweeting that McCain’s a traitor might not be real Americans and instead might just be Russian trolls seeking to undermine faith in our democracy.
Sure, I understood that the Russians had interfered in our 2016 presidential election. After all, it was my anger at President Trump on July 13, 2017 defending the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents by his son Donald J. Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jarred Kushner and his senior advisor (soon to be Trump’s campaign manager) Paul Manafort that fueled my decision to join Twitter on July 15, 2017. But I naïvely assumed that Russian meddling had ended in 2016. I was wrong. Russian information operations against the U.S. are continuing today, stronger than ever.
Russian information operations against the U.S. are continuing today, stronger than ever. Tweet this.
Now that I’m blogging and I realize that Russia is still attacking the U.S., I decided last Sunday to go back and take what I thought would be just a quick look at those posts that I had seen in July 2017 that talked about pardons and treason and that attacked John McCain as a traitor. Wow, there’re a ton. I count 438 tweets by hundreds of peeps in just the single month of July 2017 calling John McCain a traitor. To be clear, these aren’t a few tweets saying that Senator McCain betrayed the G.O.P. No, not at all. These are the most vitriolic lies you can imagine, falsely claiming that John McCain is a treasonous songbird who sold his country out to the enemy, that he’s responsible for the deaths of more than a hundred American soldiers and sailors during the Vietnam War and that he was sentenced to death and would have been shot by a firing squad except his daddy was an Admiral and used nepotism to get President Nixon to pardon him. Just take a look at a few yourself.
Anyway, out of this cesspool of shit, I decided to hold my nose and pick out just one tweet so I could take a quick look at one of the hundreds of accounts attacking John McCain to figure out if it’s a Russian troll or not. This is the tweet I picked — Grumpy’s July 16, 2017 tweet asking, “When is McCain going to be indited [sic] for Treason AGAIN??????????????????. THIS TIME NO PARDON”
My quick look turned into a week’s worth of work. The more I looked, the more disturbing stuff I found. As you’ll see in this and my next couple of posts, Grumpy is not merely a Russian troll; he represents a particularly dangerous and divisive front that Russia has opened up in its continuing campaign to spread hate across the U.S.
When I started, I looked to see what else Grumpy was saying about John McCain. I saw immediately that Grumpy attacks Senator McCain incessantly. Here’re a few more examples from well more than a hundred such attack tweets by just this single Russian troll against John McCain.
John McCain is far from being alone. Looking further at Grumpy, I soon realized that he’s a great example of how Russia is using social media like Twitter to try to tear us apart. While Grumpy is a single troll, he’s the tip of a very big iceberg. Grumpy illustrates the danger Russia’s armies of 100,000s of trolls and bots pose to our ship of state.
Grumpy continually attacks leading politicians of both parties, our justice system and our free press. In addition, Grumpy constantly pushes Kremlin agitiprop, especially propaganda aimed at inciting anti-Islamic hate and violence. When you look at his tweets as a whole and how he fits in, you realize that Grumpy is part of Russia’s systemmatic and strengthening info op offensive that’s designed to do what it can to undermine our democracy.
In this post, we’ll focus on Grumpy’s attacks on our leaders and democratic institutions. In future posts, we’ll look at how Grumpy pushes more of Putin’s propaganda, especially Russian lies consciously inciting hate and violence against Muslims, and then examine how Grumpy fits in and serves as a soldier in Russia’s troll armies.
Grumpy Repeatedly Attacks Our Leaders and Democratic Institutions
To undermine public faith in democracy, Grumpy constantly attacks our political leaders, both Republican and Democratic, our justice system, both prosecutors and judges, and our free press.
Grumpy Attacks Republicans
As part of his attacks on our political leaders, Grumpy repetitively attacks prominent Republicans. Examples include:
Note how many of Grumpy’s attacks — such as his tweets calling Romney the anti-Christ and accusing Rubio of promoting Islam and Sharia law — do double duty by also stirring up religions division and discord against both Mormons and Muslims.
Grumpy Attacks Democrats
Before we move onto how Grumpy attacks our justice system and news media, let’s pause for a moment and pay particular attention to how Grumpy uses race in his attacks on John Lewis and Maxine Waters.
So you can see Grumpy’s image better, here’s a bigger version. Notice how Grumpy depicts Representative Lewis as a big fat black man with a gorilla’s face holding his dick while he’s grabbing a white woman.
And here’re a couple of Grumpy’s more vitriolic tweets against Maxine Waters.
Notice how Grumpy depicts Representative Waters as a chimpanzee. These tweets show exactly how Grumpy and many other Russian trolls overtly use race as a tool to promote and exploit pre-existing divisions in our society. Whenever you see provocations like this, understand how Russian provocation works and how best to respond.
Grumpy Attacks Our Justice System
Just as Grumpy attacks our political leaders, he attacks officials and judges in our justice system as well and for the same reason — to undermine public faith in our democratic institutions. That’s exactly why Grumpy attacks targets such as Special Counsel Bob Mueller
and the Justice Department itself.
Grumpy also repeatedly attacks judges, calling into question the indepedence and integrity of the third branch of our government, a pillar of justice essential to our democracy.
Grumpy Attacks the News Media
A democracy depends upon a free press. Just like Grumpy attacks our political leaders and our justice system, so he also attacks the media as biased and fake news, all as part of the Russian campaign to undermine faith in our democratic institutions.
Having now gone through each of his 8,000+ tweets, I calculate that approximately 20% or roughly 1,600 of Grumpy’s tweets consist of attacks on our political leaders, our justice system and the media.
(BTW, this 20% estimate doesn’t count Grumpy’s repeated—and on rare occasion witty, here’s a NSFW example — attacks on Hollywood celebrities, D-listers like Kathy Griffin, Michael Moore and Amy Schumer, Vogue magazine editors, feminists, Anthony Bourdain, Chelsea Clinton, NFL players, etc. Mocking soft targets, which is designed to make Grumpy look more trustworthy and appealing to his target audience, makes up somewhere around another 10% of Grumpy’s tweets.)
Now realize that Grumpy’s merely a single solder among 100,000s of trolls in Russia’s troll armies. The math behind this estimate is simple. We know that a just one network of Russian trolls and bots on just Twitter —a network of accounts with user names ending in 8 random numbers — has more than 63,000 members. We also know that trolls and bots having names ending in 8 digits comprise a small fraction of the universe of Russian trolls and bots on Twitter. To be conservative, let’s assume that trolls and bots with 8-digit names make up 10% of all Russian trolls and bots on Twitter. (I believe that the correct estimate is closer to a few percent points.) Even this conservative assumption means that Russia is running more than half a million trolls and bots (63,000 x 10 = 630,000) on Twitter alone. Given Russia’s skill in creating fully-automated bots and partially-automated cyborg accounts, I wouldn’t be surprised if the true number of Russian trolls, bots and cyborgs on Twitter ultimately turns out to be in the millions.
Now consider that many Russian trolls and bots tweet much more frequently than Grumpy, sometimes more than 400 tweets a day, and generally have more followers than Grumpy, often reaching 10,000s and even 100,000s of followers. And recognize that Twitter is just a single platform and that Russian trolls and bots are doing exactly the same thing on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, blogs, comment sections, and many other sites.
Once you begin to see the true size and scope of Russia’s long-running and strengthening disinformation campaigns, you can begin to appreciate how corrosive the cumulative attacks of trolls like Grumpy are to public confidence in our democratic institutions.
In Part 2 — Putin Wants You to Kill Muslims and Let God Sort Them Out — we’ll look at how Grumpy pushes Kremlin agitiprop, especially propaganda consciously designed to foment hate and violence against Muslims in America.