Monday, October 1, 2018

Did Russian trolls host a Reddit AMA on Christmas?

I recently made a chronological list of the suspected Russian troll accounts on Reddit.  The final account on that list, /u/TrollsOfficial, was created December 25th, 2017, at 9AM EDT.  At 9:04 AM, /u/TrollsOfficial created a thread in /r/CasualIAmA titled:
We are "Russian Trolls", ask us anything!
You can view the thread here:
https://www.reddit.com/r/casualiama/comments/7m1hht/we_are_russian_trolls_ask_us_anything/ 

And here is a version showing deleted comments:
https://www.removeddit.com/r/casualiama/comments/7m1hht/we_are_russian_trolls_ask_us_anythin
g/

Earlier in 2017, the administrators of BlackMattersUS.com (a site linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency) created a minor stir by saying they planned to host an AMA on Reddit.  Several sites like Business Insider and Think Progress wrote about the announcement, but the idea seemed to have been dropped as quickly as it was formed.

There have been plenty of low-effort AMAs in which a person claimed to be a Russian troll or Russian bot.  One piece of evidence which lends credibility to the December 25th AMA is this tweet from Casey Michel of ThnkProgress:
Casey received an e-mail on December 24th from the administrator of BlackMattersUS.com, claiming there would be an AMA on Christmas morning at 9 AMwhich is exactly what happened.  Furthermore, Casey didn't share his image on Twitter until the next afternoon, so it's not as though someone decided to impersonate the Russian trolls after reading his tweet.  So I suspect the AMA was legitimate.

Below is a full transcript of the AMA, complete with photos.  I also put some notes at the end:


9:05:21

Mohato: What are your political agenda and goals in general?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/mrOwdXe





9:12:48

Malefane: What's your current campaign is about?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/Gl7uMlI




9:19:11

Researchbeggar: Of your many US troll personas and organizations, which do you consider your greatest success so far?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/6T027dq




9:23:40

JoJouel: What is your practice when someone accuses one of your accounts of being a troll? Do you ignore the accusation, deny it, attack back, or something else?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/GuoJ9qV




9:25:58

Caterpillarclass: Do you actually believe in anything?

TrollsOfficial: They are among us. Blood-drinking, flesh-eating, shape-shifting extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids with only one objective in their cold-blooded little heads: to enslave the human race. They are our leaders, our corporate executives, our beloved Oscar-winning actors and Grammy-winning singers, and they're responsible for the Holocaust, the Oklahoma City bombings and the 9/11 attacks ...




9:36:13

Caterpillarclass: Does your mother know that you are a troll?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/ugnwWVA




9:39:24

DroppingTheOppressor: Did you coordinate your efforts, in any way, with anyone affiliated with Trump during or after the 2016 election?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/jkbYtFW



9:48:39

Solodoto666: Are you finding Facebook’s and Twitter’s tightened security an obstacle? How are your replacement accounts performing?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/GNqoFQx




10:01:34

Solodoto666: Do you use hacking against your political enemies?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/IwP4ccj



10:06:00

-NorthKorea-:  Best program to learn Russian?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/7fbhAZS



10:11:36

Mohato: Could you proof that you are the Russian Trolls?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/3Cjepdx  [NOTE: This leads to a NSFW image]

Silent_xfer: I'm confused about how an article and a Screenshot are proof? I could post those two things, too.....

TrollsOfficial: This screenshot wasn't in the final cut, so it is proof, cause only we have it.

Silent_xfer: Are you familiar with the concept of offering context?

10:19:14

Malefane: Where did you shoot that "Hillary Clinton" sex video, and why is the man wearing slippers?

TrollsOfficialhttps://imgur.com/gxPJvhh




Silent_xfer: This doesn't even make sense and has virtually no humorous impact. This whole thread is like 2/10 at best.

TrollsOfficial: So, make it better, comrade, ask questions, drink vodka!

Silent_xfer: 1/10


11:44:35

Jisoosana: Rocky IV is the best American film because we kicked a Russians ass.  :)

TrollsOfficial: Hans "Dolph" Lundgren is a Swedish. Even Russian kid can kick your ass

Jisoosana: Except when it comes to basic human rights.  Because well.....


13:27:06

Deidara141: No question, just wanted to say that you draw pretty good drawings for a troll.

________________________________________________________________

It's possible that many of the accounts asking questions in the AMA were also Russian trolls.  The Reddit accounts /u/Caterpillarclass, /u/JoJouel, /u/Malefane, /u/Mohato, /u/Researchbeggar, and /u/Solodoto666 were all suspended and added to the list of the suspected troll accounts.  I discussed the issue with fellow spam-hunter /u/abrownn, and he advised a bit of caution in leaping to assumptions.  We don't know the reason why Reddit's administrators flagged certain accounts, and it's possible some non-troll accounts got swept in with the rest.  

Also, if you look at the exchange starting at 10:11:36, you'll see that /u/TrollsOfficial shared an unreleased image from the infamous Hillary Clinton porn parody.  (NBC News wrote about the video in April.)  /u/TrollsOfficial offered the image as proof of their status as a real Russian troll, but that screenshot might have been floating around the internet for months before the AMA took place.

I sent an e-mail to admin@blackmattersus.com and asked if they were responsible for the AMA.  I haven't gotten a reply yet.

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