Russian Twitter account pretending to be Tennessee GOP fools celebrities, politicians

Russian operatives used a fake Twitter account that claimed to speak for Tennessee Republicans to convince American politicians, celebrities and journalists to share select content with their own massive lists of followers, two people familiar with the matter said.

The list of prominent people who tweeted out links from the account, @Ten_GOP, which Twitter shut down in August, includes political figures such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and James Woods, and media personalities such as Anne Coulter and Chris Hayes.

There is no evidence that any of them knew the account was run by Russians. Independent researchers had suspected the account was Russian, and their work was confirmed Wednesday by two people familiar with the investigations into the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election.

The spread of links from the account shows the remarkable reach of a disinformation campaign that harnessed the power of American celebrity and the immediacy of social media to propel messages farther, faster and more cheaply than possible even a few years ago.

At time when public scrutiny has focused on Russia’s exploitation of Facebook, the new discoveries about the reach of @Ten_GOP underscore the role Twitter and other social media platforms also played in reaching audiences, including people influential in shaping political narratives.

“They were trying to influence influencers,” said Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, who, like several other researchers, has used analytics tools to map the spread of the reported Russian account. “They’re creating buzz. It’s a buzz machine.”

Michael Sullivan, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, whose actual verified handle is @TNGOP, said his group had complained to Twitter about the account in September of last year, as well as in March and August.

“We’ve done a…

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