Reddit has become a major target for Russian propaganda, and a new update from the website shows that the Donald Trump fan page The_Donald appears to be one of the biggest havens for propagandists.
This week, the link-sharing site revealed that it had identified close to 1,000 user accounts that were connected to the Russian Internet Research Agency, the shadowy group that worked to interfere in the 2016 election by spreading fake news and propaganda in an effort to help elect Donald Trump. While Reddit noted that many of the accounts were identified as spam and deleted or became inactive years ago, a number of them racked up high “karma” scores with popular submissions and remained active as recently as this week.
The report noted that many of these accounts built up “karma” by posting submissions to popular sites like r/pics and r/funny, allowing them to wield greater influence with controversial posts. Many of the accounts aimed at sparking racial division, posting controversial images and posts from both sides — both attacking African Americans and supporting movements against police for brutality against minorities.
The_Donald was a common target, garnering more than 300 different submissions from these accounts and many more comments. The account that generated the most karma was Rubinjer, who posted frequently to The_Donald as well as a related subreddit, r/HillaryForPrison. Many remained active long after the election ended, with continued posts in The_Donald including one that appeared to mock the topic of Russian trolls on the site.
The Russian-linked accounts even fought back against allegations that there was Russian influence on the site. After a user’s description of Russian bots on the site was linked to the r/bestof page, Russian-linked users accused Trump’s opponents of actually being the ones spreading misinformation.
“Complains about russian bots, downvotes etc. while gets his insta upvotes and frontpage,” user shomyo wrote. “Kinda obvious who exactly spread misinformation, narratives and much more.”
This is not the first evidence that The_Donald was a popular target for Russian propaganda. Earlier this year, when special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation led to indictments against 13 Russians for spreading propaganda, a Reddit user found that much of this information found its way to The_Donald. A Twitter account @TEN_GOP identified as part of the Russian propaganda operation was posted hundreds of times to The_Donald, with some of the submissions garnering thousands of user votes and reaching the front page.
Administrators on Reddit have pushed back against calls to ban The_Donald for instances of racism and homophobia and calls for violence.