American racists are reusing some of the ugliest elements of Russia’s election interference operation.
Memes published by some of the worst Kremlin-backed trolls of the 2016 campaign are being echoed online by American neo-Confederates. The Russian accounts, overseen by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), have since been taken down. But American parrot accounts running some of the same racist crap—and worse—are still live on Instagram, an investigation by The Daily Beast and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found. At least one of these live accounts claims to belong to a Russian network persona.
The accounts—which hail the Confederate flag as “Protecting Us From Tyranny Since 1861” and claim that “The Civil War was not about slavery”—highlight the blurry and politically charged boundaries between domestic and foreign trolling. The American racists didn’t need Russia’s help to hate, of course. But the Kremlin supplied a well of ready-made memes for lazy neo-Confederates to post online.
“I think the similarities between these accounts and those of the IRA highlights how complex the IRA operations around elections have been. It is possible that memes originally created by the IRA have found new or renewed life on social media,” Kanishk Karan, a research associate at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, told The Daily Beast. “The way they camouflaged within the political conversations is also a fascinating detail: We’ve reached a point where it is harder to verify whether an online social or political movement is astroturfed or from grassroots participants.”
When Russian trolls went hunting for targets and content during the 2016 election, race was their “preferred target,” according to a Senate Intelligence Committee study.
South United, a Russian Facebook and Instagram persona that featured in the IRA’s 2016 meddling campaign, took this theme and ran with it, plastering followers with all kinds of racist, bigoted appeals to the Confederacy.
During the 2016 election, South United was one of the “10 most active IRA-administered Facebook pages,” according to a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation. It was also undoubtedly Russian. The ads that South United ran were paid for in rubles using a Russian payment processor, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller cited the page as the work of the IRA in a 2018 indictment of 13 IRA employees and officials.
Some of the images published by South United included racist memes of former President Obama dressed as a Nazi with the caption “Don’t support illegals, support own people.” One meme published by the IRA’s account showed a picture of Black Lives Matter protesters next to the question “Black lives or black thugs?” These memes can still be found on active Instagram accounts that pose as state chapters of the original South United page.
The accounts also published the same racist and neo-Confederate images originally published by Russian trolls, such as one with a Confederate flag middle finger bidding viewers to “Say hi to the Yanks” and another wondering, “How many likes can this battle flag get?” The IRA’s South United watermark can still be viewed on these posts.
It’s unclear when the IRA’s South United Facebook and Instagram accounts were first created, but Twitter users were reposting material from the accounts as early as November 2015. Facebook ad data shows that the IRA’s @South_United Instagram page started running ads that same month. By contrast, the earliest post from among the dozen American-run echo-chamber mimic accounts was in May 2016.
In August of that year, the operators of some of these state chapter Instagram accounts also promoted a Russian-organized pro-Trump rally. As The Daily Beast first reported, the IRA announced a “patriotic state-wide flash mob” in support of Trump’s candidacy on a separate Facebook page it ran called “Being Patriotic” using an image of Hillary Clinton in a prison cell. Two of the state chapter Instagram accounts, @south_united_fl and @south_united_il, promoted the rally using the Hillary image taken from an IRA-run Facebook page.
The accounts still live on Instagram also share considerable overlap with the original Russian page in other ways. All of the accounts, for instance, claim to be state chapters of the original South United page, with names like “South United Iowa” and “South United Tennessee.” They all use a similar logo to the IRA Facebook account, and some posts even use memes with stilted phrases like “History is written By victor…” and “Can it be any simple?”—language reminiscent of the non-native English used in some IRA propaganda memes.
Some of the accounts on Instagram even claim to be directly related to the original Russian page. “South United Louisiana” says it’s “the South United page for the state of Louisiana,” while the “South United Georgia” page says it’s the “@south_united page made for the great people of Georgia.” (The latter was taken down at some point prior to The Daily Beast’s discovery, although the Louisiana page remains live.)
The parrot accounts used not just IRA memes but other inflammatory content from outside the South United network. The accounts reposted a variety of memes along the same lines of Southern political and cultural resentments, including pro-Confederacy, pro-gun, anti-Islam, and anti-Hillary Clinton content. In one particularly egregious example, the @south_united_florida account posted an image of four bodies with gunshot wounds to the heads and the words “King Barrak, Queen Michelle, Usurper Hillary, George Soros” above each corpse.
The Daily Beast made repeated attempts to contact the owners of the Instagram accounts still up but received no reply.
Nathan Gleicher—head of security policy at Facebook, which owns Instagram—said the accounts, for now, haven’t violated company policies aimed at helping users distinguish between “inauthentic behavior and authentic speech.” So they’re staying online.
“When we take down influence operations, we take action based on the behavior we see on our platforms, not the content they post,” Gleicher told The Daily Beast. “We’ve seen these manipulation campaigns reuse content created by innocent people. Most of the content shared by coordinated manipulation campaigns isn’t provably false, and would in fact be acceptable political discourse if shared by real people. That’s why content alone is not a strong signal for identifying these operations.” To disinformation researchers at the DFRLab, the Instagram accounts that are still live show signs of being dedicated to amplifying IRA material.
DFRLab researchers found evidence that someone may have used engagement-for-hire services to interact with the American Instagram amplification accounts. A few accounts with defunct jewelry and crystal storefronts posted generic comments on the state chapter network accounts’ images.
Not that the IRA needed much help in amplifying its neo-Confederate content. The IRA’s South United Facebook page reached a height of 138,000 followers and harvested a total of 1.5 million likes and 2.3 million shares before it was shut down in 2017. Of the dozen American state chapter Instagram accounts, none have more than 1,000 followers and most have just a few dozen.
Facebook told The Daily Beast that the parrot network accounts appeared to be authentically American. “It appears that these accounts belong to real people in the United States whose content was likely mimicked by these operations we removed in the past,” Gleicher told The Daily Beast.
DFRLab researchers found some evidence that the IRA’s neo-Confederate persona may have copied organic memes created by authentic American bigots outside the state chapter network. The IRA’s South United Instagram account published a picture of a Confederate stick person attacking an LGBT pride flag stick person in late 2016—a meme copied from an unrelated American Instagram account posted in 2015.
In other words, the Russians copied the American racists. And the racists copied the Russians. It’s a circle of hate.
During 2016, the Kremlin’s sophisticated understanding of the United States led its propaganda to amplify it. They invented memes to exploit racism, secure in the knowledge that the memes would find wide purchase in America. But while the larger social-media firms purged the accounts that promoted them, the memes have achieved exactly what the Russians wanted: persistence.
And sadly, material aimed squarely at Confederate sympathizers apparently remains a popular topic for Russian trolls: Facebook announced just two months ago that it had removed dozens of Instagram accounts that originated in Russia, some of which published pro-Confederate material targeted at American audiences.
Social media page aimed to keep FSU students accountable as campus life resumes
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – The first week of classes at Florida State University has already landed some students in hot water.
Amidst all of this has sprouted a new, modern way that some are hoping will hold students accountable in the age of COVID-19.
The latest effort is an Instagram page, and it’s gaining a lot of attention. Some might call it social shaming, but the creators say they want to create a sense of collective responsibility.
Candid videos sent in by anonymous sources; that’s how a new Instagram page aims to hold students at Florida State accountable.
“The people who are coming back and partying and disregarding all of this, they have the potential to kill people and ruin people’s life,” said one of the creators of the Mask Up FSU Instagram page, who did not want to be identified.
The anonymous creators describe themselves as “very” active members of the FSU community, saying they got the idea while driving around campus and noticing a lot of students weren’t abiding by social distancing guidelines.
“Not our intention to spread hate or bullying or any type of fears online. But, we do need to bring awareness that there are harsher consequences to going out and partying.”
The first page gained 4,000 followers in just three days before it was suspended for unknown reasons. The new one now has more than 1,000 in roughly 24 hours.
It’s, perhaps, a welcome tool as many students unaffiliated with the page say they’re frustrated by recent actions.
“They shouldn’t be doing that, but they are, and I can’t do anything about it,” said Nicole Rodriguez, a sophomore at FSU.
“I was more just kind of annoyed that other students would put themselves before anyone else,” added FSU freshman Emma Cagwin.
The page is also aiming to change irresponsible actions.
“Through this account, we are able to work with the administration and work with a lot of our peers our age and be able to use social media as a method of activism.”
The creators say they’re using it as a proactive platform to share information from university administrators and, in the future, helpful tools to combat the virus.
The creators say they have received a number of threats from some students who feel targeted by the posts. However, they say their goal is to keep the public safe.
Copyright 2020 WCTV. All rights reserved.
Social Networking Sites Market 2020 (COVID-19 Worldwide Spread Analysis) by Key Players …
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1. North America Country (United States, Canada)
2. South America
3. Asia Country (China, Japan, India, Korea)
4. Europe Country (Germany, UK, France, Italy)
5. Other Country (Middle East, Africa, GCC)
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TOC Snapshot of Global Social Networking Sites Market
1. Social Networking Sites Product Definition
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3. Manufacturer Social Networking Sites Business Introduction
4. Social Networking Sites Market Segmentation (Region Level)
5. World Social Networking Sites Market Segmentation (Product Type Level)
6. Social Networking Sites Market Segmentation (Industry Level)
7. Segmentation (Channel Level) of Social Networking Sites Market
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9. Product Type Social Networking Sites Segmentation
10. Segmentation of Social Networking Sites Industry
11. Cost of Social Networking Sites Production Analysis
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Making It Easier to Shop and Sell on Our Apps
- Today we’re introducing Facebook Shop, a new place to discover businesses and shop for products in the Facebook app, and we’re expanding checkout on Instagram to all US businesses and creators.
- We’re also making Shops available to any eligible business and adding customization features, messaging and new insights.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to online shopping has rapidly accelerated, with an estimated 85% of people worldwide now shopping online. We want to make shopping easier for people and empower anyone, from an entrepreneur to the largest brand, to use our apps to connect with customers and grow their business. That’s why we’re creating new ways for people to shop on our apps and providing tools to help businesses sell online.
A New Place for People to Shop in the Facebook App
Today we’re introducing Facebook Shop, a new place to discover businesses and shop for products in the Facebook app. Facebook Shop makes it easy for people to find products from businesses they love, discover new ones and make purchases, all in one place. We just started testing this in the US and we launched a complementary shopping destination on Instagram in July, called Instagram Shop, where people can discover and buy products from creators and brands, all in one place.
New Tools for Businesses to Create and Manage an Online Store
One of the easiest ways for businesses to showcase their products on Facebook and Instagram is through Facebook Shops. Shops makes it simple for businesses to set up a single online store that customers can access on both Facebook and Instagram. We launched Shops in May, and in the coming weeks, we’re making it available to any eligible business and adding customization features, messaging and new insights to help businesses measure results. We’re also expanding checkout on Instagram to all US businesses and creators.
These new features give businesses more control over how their digital storefront looks and make creating new collections easier. These include:
- New design layouts for featuring single products or groups of products in Shops
- Real-time preview of collections as they are designed
- The ability to automatically create Shops for new sellers
- New insights to measure results in Commerce Manager
Expanding Checkout on Instagram
In the coming weeks, all eligible sellers in the US will be able to start using checkout on Instagram. Checkout makes it easy for people to make a purchase in just a few taps, without leaving the app. To use checkout, businesses must have Shops and use Facebook Commerce Manager or our partners Shopify and BigCommerce. We’ll support more platform partners soon.
We’re also waiving selling fees for businesses through the end of the year to reduce the cost of doing business online, especially given the current economic crisis.
Connect with Customers Using Messaging and Live Shopping
Messaging through Shops combines the in-store experience of being able to ask a salesperson questions with the convenience of online shopping. Messaging allows businesses to provide personalized assistance so people can make more informed decisions about their purchase. The new messaging button on Shops makes it easy for people to message businesses through Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram Direct. Customers can view products right within the chat, making it easy to share products with friends and family to get feedback before making a purchase. We’re testing this feature on Messenger and Instagram Direct now, and will start testing it on WhatsApp soon.
With Live Shopping, we’re making it easier for people to shop in real time. We’ve been testing this feature on both Facebook and Instagram, and now Facebook Live Shopping includes new features to help businesses easily set up a live experience featuring products from their Shop and sell directly from the video. Instagram Live Shopping is now available to all businesses and creators using checkout in the US.