The Russian trolls in the Mueller-indicted Internet Research Agency held a public Q&A session on Reddit last year that went all but unnoticed, and consisted almost entirely of the IRA’s own sockpuppet accounts asking the questions.
In October 2017 the IRA used two of their fake black-rights websites to announce a public “ask-me-anything” (AMA) event on Reddit, promising to answer questions from the public and press for the first time. The trolls simultaneously blasted out emails to reporters soliciting advance questions.
“We have been following your work concerning Internet Research Agency with great interest,” read an email received by The Daily Beast at the time. “We will be glad to answer your questions on AMA Reddit Session soon. You can ask your questions via the special form on blackmattersus.com and/or donotshoot.us These questions will have a higher priority during the AMA Reddit session.”
The Daily Beast e-mailed the troll farm a list of 13 questions and asked for a reply. We were disappointed, though not surprised, when the trolls didn’t write back with the answers, and the much ballyhooed AMA never seemed to materialize.
Except that it did.
Last month blogger Jeremy Massler discovered an overlooked Reddit discussion dating to December 2017 in which the trolls finally made good on their promise—kind of. Using a newly created account called TrollsOfficial, the IRA started a thread on a subreddit devoted to impromptu AMAs: “We are ‘Russian Trolls’, ask us anything!”
The unannounced event was lightly attended, possibly because the trolls timed it for Christmas morning.
Over the course of two-and-a-half hours the IRA fielded all of 14 questions, responding to most with captioned cartoon drawings depicting green-skinned goblin trolls in amusing situations, similar to the clipart image the troll factory chose as its logo in an election-trolling campaign this week.
To prove their bona fides to redditors, the IRA referenced a hoax Hillary Clinton sex video it tried to pass off ahead of the 2016 election, and provided a still image from the hotel room location shoot that shows the actress’s face in closeup.
There’s other evidence that the AMA was authentic. Six of the eight Reddit accounts that asked questions have since been deleted. They were all removed last spring in Reddit’s purge of 1,000 IRA sock-puppet accounts.
Yes, the IRA was taking questions from itself. And those questions? When The Daily Beast reviewed the AMA, we thought they looked familiar. It turned out five of the 14 questions were copy-pasted from the list we sent the IRA.
In other words, the Russian troll farm solicited questions from reporters so they’d have content for a Reddit AMA two months later in which the speaker and most of the audience were Russian troll accounts, and virtually nobody else ever saw the conversation.
According to federal prosecutors, the IRA’s foreign influence operation cost $12.2 million in 2017.