Jenna Abrams was a popular figure in right-wing social media circles. Boasting nearly 70,000 followers, Abrams was featured in numerous news articles during the 2016 election, spotlighted by outlets as varied as USA Today, the Washington Post, the BBC, and Yahoo! Sports. Her tweet about CNN airing porn during Anthony Bourdain’s show (it didn’t) was reported by numerous outlets.
But Abrams never existed.
According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities — @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP — were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.
According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.
Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation.
“To those people, who hate the Confederate flag. Did you know that the flag and the war wasn’t about slavery, it was all about money,” the Abrams account wrote in April of 2016. The tweet quickly went viral, earning rebukes from historian Kevin Kruse and Al Letson, the host of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s popular Reveal podcast.
Those rebukes only allowed Abrams initial message to spread even wider, which was the ultimate intention of Russia’s propaganda campaign — to sow dissension and increase the racial divide among America’s voting populace, revealing the world’s only superpower as a country in decline.
“The tried and tested way of active measures is to use an adversary’s existing weaknesses against himself, to drive wedges into pre-existing cracks,” Thomas Rid, a professor of war studies at King’s College London, told Politfact. “The more polarized a society, the more vulnerable it is. And America in 2016, of course, was highly polarized, with lots of cracks to drive wedges into, but not old wedges, improved high-tech wedges that allowed the Kremlin’s operatives to attack their target faster, more reactively and at a far larger scale than ever before.”
Pamela Moore, another popular online personality during the 2016 election who tweeted using the handle @Pamela_Moore13. was also created in the same Russian troll factory with the same basic mission — to sow division and heighten racial tension among Americans.
Unlike the Abrams account, which went out of its way to say it wasn’t pro-Trump, nearly all of Moore’s tweets leading up to the election appear to have crafted to support Trump’s campaign. Among the account’s most widely shared posts leading up to the election were tweets repeating lies and conspiracy theories about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and pushing themes of Trump’s campaign, including this anti-refugee post that was shared more than 4,700 times.
Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn followed both accounts. His son, Michael Flynn Jr., shared a tweet from the Abrams account just days before the election.
Flynn wasn’t alone: Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway and Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign digital director, all retweeted fake Russian Twitter accounts in the month before the election. Vice President Mike Pence followed five different accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency, according to the Daily Beast.
Russia’s disinformation campaign wasn’t limited to just Twitter; the country utilized ads and fake accounts like the ones below on many different social media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram, information released by the House Intelligence Committee showed.