Tumblr says its platform was used to spread misinformation by Russian agency

27 Mar 2018

Tumblr app. Image: I AM NIKOM/Shutterstock

Tumblr says it has deleted a number of accounts believed to have been used by the Internet Research Agency in Russia to spread false information.

Tumblr has revealed 84 accounts that it says were used by a Russian internet group, the Internet Research Agency, to spread misinformation.

According to Tumblr, it made the discovery as it helped with an official investigation into the organisation’s influence on 2016’s presidential election in the US.

In February of this year, 13 Russians with links to the Internet Research Agency were indicted by the US government, charged with trying to manipulate US social media users.

Tumblr discloses discovery

After discovering the accounts, Tumblr said it shut them down, informed law enforcement in the US and deleted all the content they had created. Although the accounts were uncovered in late 2017, the company was prevented from disclosing the findings due to the ongoing investigation.

Tumblr said it would email any user who “liked, reblogged, replied to or followed” an account linked to the Internet Research Agency, with a list of usernames they engaged with.

It said it was “committed to transparency” and added: “We’ve decided to leave up any reblog chains that might be on your Tumblrs – you can choose to leave them or delete them. We’re letting you decide because the reblog chains contain posts created by real Tumblr users, often challenging or debunking the false and incendiary claims.”

Sowing division

The accounts were created to stir up discord in the US ahead of 2016’s election, as Tumblr explained: “Their goal is to sow division and discontent in the countries they target.

“What makes them so difficult to spot is that they’re not spambots. They’re real people who get trained and paid to spread propaganda.”

Many of the accounts were users posing as black Americans discussing race, the law and protesting prior to the election. Usernames included ‘blacknproud’ and ‘black-to-the-bones’.

According to NPR, this racial targeting of demographics has been a long-held method of stirring up discord. In 1984, Soviet intelligence forged threatening letters from the Ku Klux Klan addressed to Asian and African countries to try and unnerve Olympic teams and dissuade athletes from attending the event in Los Angeles.

Tumblr app. Image: I AM NIKOM/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects