By Joseph Menn
SANFRANCISCO -A group believed to be Russian has remained active on internet services favored by far-right Americans, showing efforts to interfere in U.S. politics continue after the election, according to reports from social media research firm Graphika and nonprofit Advance Democracy Inc.
The group, which Graphika believes to be connected to previous Russian interference efforts, runs at least 20 accounts on a new version of an internet bulletin board once known as TheDonald, in reference to former president Donald Trump. Discussion site Reddit banned the forum last year, saying it encouraged violence against public officials.
Nineteen of the accounts on the renamed Patriots.win site were created in three hours last Nov. 5, two days after the presidential election, Graphika said, and have amplified Republican Trump’s false claims of vote rigging. http://www.graphika.com/patriots
The accounts also posted cartoons and comments that falsely accuse President Joe Biden, a Democrat, of pedophilia and senility. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the postings.
Graphika said 16 times in March and April, Patriots.win accounts posted the same cartoons as accounts the firm was already tracking on Gab, a site popular with white supremacists. Neither Gab’s top executive nor a group of Patriots.win moderators responded to Reuters questions about the accounts.
The cartoons, which did not appear elsewhere online, “could indicate an attempt at experimenting with trying to inject specific messaging” on different themes, said Marc-Andre Argentino, a researcher at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.
Identical postings from Patriots.win and Gab were still visible last week, though Reuters could not independently establish they were posted by the same people.
The Gab accounts previously promoted a site called the Newsroom for American and European Based Citizens (NAEBC), which Facebook experts said was associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian government contractor.
The activities of the accounts shows that they are acting in close coordination with known IRA disinformation operations, Graphika said. The postings typically occurred within an hour on both Patriots.net and Gab networks, Graphika said.
The contractor was indicted in 2018 by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 election; it has not entered a plea and has reorganized since then. NAEBC has gone offline and the IRA‘s founder did not return a message seeking comment.
Moscow denies interfering in U.S. elections.
“The same suspected Russian actors that targeted the 2020 U.S. election have retooled and doubled down on their efforts,” said Graphika Director of Investigations Jack Stubbs, a former Reuters reporter.
Advance Democracy said the Gab accounts have more followers now than when NAEBC was publicly linked to the IRA last year and went offline. It said related accounts were active on Parler, which did not respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to independently confirm this.
On Thursday, the most active of the Patriots.win accounts posted “2A is the answer to the corrupt pedo elite,” garnering hundreds of supportive votes. 2A refers to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protecting the right to bear arms.
The account did not return a message seeking comment.