DOWNTOWN — A Russian company that’s sought to influence American events, including the 2016 presidential election, posed as a beloved, but long-shuttered Chicago newspaper on social media for years, according to NPR.
The Internet Research Agency, described as a “troll farm” by the U.S. intelligence community, uses scores of fake social media accounts to influence current events in the United States. The company created a Twitter account for the Chicago Daily News in May 2014, according to a new report from NPR, and the account gathered 19,000 followers by June 2016.
But the Chicago Daily News — home of famed columnist Mike Royko — closed in 1978, and the newspaper’s office in the Sun-Times’ headquarters was eventually demolished. (Trump Tower was built in its place.)
The fake Daily News Twitter didn’t spread false stories, according to NPR. Instead, the account and other similar ones served “as sleeper accounts building trust and readership for some future, unforeseen effort.”
“They set them up for a reason. And if at any given moment they wanted to operationalize this network of what seemed to be local American news handles, they can significantly influence the narrative on a breaking news story,” Bret Schafer, a social media expert, told NPR. “But now instead of just showing up online and flooding it with news sites, they have these accounts with two years of credible history.”
Twitter eventually found the account and suspended it, according to NPR.
The longterm use of fake accounts like the Chicago Daily News one showed investigators Russia has been invested in a campaign to destabilize the United States “over an extended period of time” and took advantage of Americans’ trust in local news sources, the station reported.