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Meet Russian Twitter troll Jenna Abrams and her 2,752 friends

The alt-right blogger had almost 70,000 followers, was an utter fiction, and wasn't alone.

As the US Congress continues to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, it’s made some findings public. One such finding is a 65-page list (PDF) of 2,752 now-deactivated Twitter accounts, released last week, that Twitter identified as being tied to Russia’s troll farm.

That farm, which also goes by the name of the “Internet Research Agency,” is reportedly based in St. Petersburg.

Fox News picks up the story:

There was the ISIS attack on a chemical plant in southern Louisiana last September. Two months later, an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus occurred in Atlanta … What all these shocking and disparate stories have in common are two things: they are not true and they all originated from a group of Russian cyber trolls working out of a non-descript office building in St. Petersburg.

Don’t have time to wade through the account names? Recode has done it for you, slicing and dicing the defunct accounts to draw these conclusions:

  • Some were named to look like local news agencies, such as @DailyNewsDenver and @DallasTopNews. Nineteen include “news” in their handle, 27 “novosti,” Russian for “news.”
  • Many are meant to look like Western or Russian individuals, such as @_TraceyJohnson_, @CarolineReeeed, @BogdanKravcov and @VladEvlanin.
  • Seven contain “Trump,” zero contain “Clinton,” five include “GOP.” One is @NewYorkDem.
  • Others, like@Justice4Jamar_, seem designed to play up racial tensions.

At least one of the trolls, “Jenna Abrams,” had quite the reach. The divisive alt-right blogger, a fabrication of the troll farm whose account was created in 2014, amassed something like 70,000 followers before the account was shut down.

Her account may well be shuttered, but a little digging from The Daily Beast shows that the fake alt-righter argued with celebrities as well-known as Roseanne Barr and was featured in an exhaustive list of articles written by Bustle, U.S. News and World Report, USA Today, several local Fox affiliates, InfoWars, BET, Yahoo Sports, Sky News, IJR, Breitbart, The Washington Post, Mashable, New York Daily News, Quartz, Dallas News, France24, HuffPost, The Daily Caller, The Telegraph, CNN, the BBC, Gizmodo, The Independent, The Daily Dot, The Observer, Business Insider, The National Post, Refinery29, The Times of India, BuzzFeed, The Daily Mail, The New York Times, and, unsurprisingly, Russia Today and Sputnik.

A typically inflammatory tweet, from April 2016, from the @Jenn_Abrams account:

To those people, who hate the Confederate flag. Did you know that the flag and the war wasn’t about slavery, it was all about money.

The account’s gone, but both the outraged responses and the fist-pumping of accounts that agreed with statements like that one live on.

We’re in the habit of warning kids not to trust that mystifyingly lonely, purportedly famous people who reach out to strike up random romances with people they’ve stumbled across online have any credibility whatsoever. But do we ever stop to consider, when we engage with people who spout outrageous statements online, whether we’re arguing with cardboard cutouts?

In the light of Congress’ investigation into Russian election meddling, it seems that we should now bear in mind that we’re potentially arguing not just with fictional characters set up to cause a stir, but with cardboard cutouts who seem to have been well-paid for making up antagonistic fictions.

Have you ever wondered how much money Russia’s army of trolls made when they flamed Hillary Clinton, waged a pro-Trump propaganda war, and turned Americans against their own government in the 2016 presidential election?

You probably already know if you’ve been following the news about the thousands of ads Facebook sold to Russia’s troll factory during the election – each troll made about USD $846 a month.

That’s 50,000 roubles, or £650, to post tens of thousands of comments on Western media sites including the New York Times and the Washington Post. This is according to what a former troll factory employee, identified as “Maksim,” told the independent Russian TV channel TV Rain (interview is in Russian) on 14 October.

The Telegraph quotes a translation of Maksim’s comments:

Our goal wasn’t to turn Americans toward Russia. Our goal was to set Americans against their own government. To provoke unrest, provoke dissatisfaction, lower (Barack) Obama’s rating.

Maksim said that the “document strategy” was for the trolls to familiarize themselves with hot-button topics in the US: tax problems, LGBTQ issues, and gun laws, for example. Toward that end, they were required to watch the US political TV series “House of Cards.” The trolls’ purpose was to influence opinions, he said, and they were measured not only for how many posts they made, but for the quality of the posts:

There was a goal – to influence opinions, to lead to a discussion. Argumentation wasn’t the only goal: ‘Obama is a monkey, and Putin is a fine fellow.’ This was not accepted; management even fined for it.

In the English department, there is another accountability: there, it was necessary to measure the reaction. The reaction is how much you got the likes. The comment was supposed to provoke a discussion.

According to the Russian news site RBC, the troll factory spent about $2.3 million over two years and employed up to 90 people.

RBC says that, according to troll factory insiders, the factory:

  • Spent about $80,000 on the purchase of virtual SIM cards, proxy servers, IP addresses and other IT support.
  • Paid expenses for about 100 people located in the US who allegedly didn’t know where the money was coming from, given that all communication took place over the internet and came from fake accounts. The factory paid for their inter-city flights, printing of materials and other expenses.
  • Spent about $5000 a month on social media – mostly, buying Facebook ads.

We can’t say it often enough: On the internet, nobody can tell you’re a dog, an SJW or alt-righter who truly believes what she’s saying… Or a troll who’s getting paid to make up nonsense just to needle you and foment division.

Ignore trolls as much as possible. It’s the best way to thwart their purposes. And if the reports about Russia’s troll farm turn out to be accurate, it’s also a good way to starve them of the likes and engagement they thrive on.


Lisa, this has me wondering what Sophos does with their comments, likes, and dislikes. Can you share any Sophos social analytics with us?

I have experienced only one reply to comments I made on this Sophos forum that smacked of political demogogary, and I did exactly what you advised – ignored it. It became the last word in that thread so maybe other users did the same thing.


Funny you should ask: the writers all had a kind of ground-breaking, eye-popping, really helpful meeting this morning, and we got the chance to have a look at some analytics Sophos has been doing on readership. Part of that was insight into how the tenor of the comments fluctuates in accordance with our focus—i.e., are we being accused of political bias, are readers correcting us when we make the (thankfully rare!) technical misstep, etc.

The editing team curates the comments, so they’re the ones who would have insight into how incendiary the comments are that get weeded out. I’m with you, anon: I’d be curious to see who targets us and what their aim(s) are.


We don’t have any social analytics to share but I can share our approach to moderation. Our editing team moderates comments according to what I’d call the “Bruce Schneier” rule:

“I consider the comments section as analogous to a gathering at my home. It’s not a town square. Everyone is expected to be polite and respectful, and if you’re an unpleasant guest, I’m going to ask you to leave.”

Comments are evaluated for how they contribute to the discussion and we don’t feel under any obligation to publish something somebody has said just because they’ve said it. As it goes we do publish most of the comments people make and what’s moderated out is more spam than unpleasantness. In part I think that is because people react to the neighbourhood they find themselves in. A healthy discussion sets the tone for what’s expected. If you are the only person making base comments then you know that you don’t fit in and you’ll quickly give up when it becomes obvious that your comments aren’t being published.


so the internet hasn’t changed much since 1995, or 1999, or 2004, or 2008, or 2012, or 2016… people just knee jerk react to trolls at a hire rate of fire now (views)…

The only answer here is to do away with the trash services like TWITTER, FB, etc. These networks did not sway the 2016 election (nothing shown so far has been more than a weak attempt with no influence, normal for russia) but they do cause people to have self inflated views of them selves versus reality: no one cares about your FB posts/pics/vids, none of it is real,never has been.


Interesting stuff. With thousands constantly checking social feeds there’s got to be a lot of confirmation bias–but it’s intriguing how often an opinion or perception might be swayed by a random acquaintance, digital friend, or admired celebrity. Fake news indeed.

PS typo: it was the 2016 presidential election :-) OMG every January my muscle memory endures great strife in adopting the new four-digit year, becoming hardwired after just a few weeks; in November I feel your pain.


Typo is fixed, thanks. I don’t think this is about swaying people, I think this is all about confirmation bias. It’s about telling people they’re right, and maybe it’s a little worse than they thought, energising them and giving them permission to get angry about it.

It seems to me that US political strategy has been focussed on “wedge issues” for a long time and this is simply an extension of that. If you want to get elected you need to find a passionate constituency that will advocate and evangelise for you. You do that by focussing on an issue they care about passionately rather than the bigger, duller, more impactful, less exciting issues that affect a large number of less highly motivated people.


re: your second paragraph, Mark… while I think that’s an accurate assessment of the way the people are “played” by the pols and their hacks, it does seem to overlook the fact* (*in my opinion, it’s a fact) that those “wedge issues” are the ones that are indeed matter a great deal to a large body of people.


Cheese and Rice, the wedge issues.
I wholeheartedly agree, with an exception. On Twitter I follow you, Duck, Lisa, Maria, and others whose opinions I respect. Though I feel a certain way about a given issue**, upon seeing one of you opine differently, I’ll reexamine why I think the way I do…and possibly change my stance.

Back OTOH: open minds are far less common than they *should* be–and therefore passionate confirmation bias runs rampant–but I’m still at least as theoretically valid as the Flea and the Acrobat. :-)

** or about something I wasn’t aware of or have no preexisting strong opinion on


…but of course you guys aren’t bots. Maybe that’s the distinction that I ignored, grouping all hotly-worded posts and comments, whether or not their authors deserve Turing medals.


In the time I have been following Naked Security I have noticed that the Staff and Contributors have done a good job of keeping any bias in check but realize something if you will. It does not matter what you post on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, the News and yes even Naked Security, someone will see something to take issue with. We tend to see in things that we wish to see. That is the power of these Twitter Trolls and Fake News posts. The truth is not exciting. It is sad that our propensity for the dramatic feeds the authors of these fake articles. It is time to stop believing
everything without some proof. I like a fairy tale as well as most but telling me unicorns are real demands a living specimen. This article gives me reason 1001 to never open a Twitter or Facebook account. Thank you Miss Vaas for saving me. LOL!


No Twitter or Facebook account?! I didn’t realize I was so powerful (to the 1/1,001 degree, at any rate)! Mark Zuckerberg’s going to {hyperbole!/joke!/fake news}—>>>get his goon squad to rub me out!<<<—{/hyperbole!/joke!/fake news!}


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