Midterm Elections: Russian Trolls Return With New Website Targeting U.S. Voters, Expert Cyber-Analysts Report

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In February, Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed down indictments against 13 Russian nationals including a wealthy businessman, Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s Chef” because as the Inquisitr reported in October 2017, he owned a restaurant where Russian president Vladimir Putin often dined. The indictments accused Prigozhin of operating an online “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency which staged an elaborate propaganda and disinformation campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. The other 12 Russians in the indictment worked for Prigozhin at the “Research Agency.”

The indictments, however, have not stopped the Internet Research Agency from waging a new online propaganda campaign intended to tamper with the 2018 midterm elections, according to cybersecurity experts who spoke to McClatchy News for an expose published June 1.

A new website with the title USA Really appeared online May 17, the wire service reported. That’s almost exactly three months after Mueller handed down the indictments of the Russians and the Internet Research Agency. The site reportedly began publishing nine articles per day almost immediately, according to the McClatchy report.

In a posting on its USA Really Live Journal page, the Russian trolls behind the site said that the project’s official launch date would be June 14 — Donald Trump’s birthday.

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Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, serves dinner to Russian President Vladimir Putin, center. Featured image credit: Misha JaparidzeAP Images

“WAKE UP AMERICANS! June 14th is not just the birthday of the US President. Not just a Flag Day. On this day we officially starts our project “USA Really”: the honest media about what is really happening around. Our slogan is ‘USA as it is’. We invite all Americans — all who cares about the country to celebrate this. Come up to the White House on June 14th at 2:00 a.m. to congratulate America. We’re calling for every patriot! Wake Up Americans!” the Live Journal page stated. (Punctuation and grammar errors in the original.)

But while McClatchy stopped short of linking the new USA Really site, which also has its own Twitter account, directly to the Internet Research Agency, Caroline Orr — a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert on Russian online propaganda activities — reported on Tuesday that she had traced registration information for USA Really to a Russian media company known as the Federal News Agency, or RIA FAN, which is located in the same St. Petersburg, Russia, building as the Internet Research Agency.

“One of the domains, USAReally.us, left identifiable information on the domain registry page,” Orr wrote in an article for the political site Arc Digital Media. “The person listed as the registrant is Evgenii Zubarev, the CEO of RIA FAN, which actually shares a building with the Internet Research Agency.”

USA Really also created a Facebook page, but the page was deleted by the social media company after McClatchy reporters called the company to inquire about it. Russian trolls at the Internet Research Agency used Facebook during the 2016 presidential election campaign to spread fake news and other disinformation designed to influence voters, and in part to help tip the election to Trump. Those posts were shared “billions” of times on Facebook, as the Inquisitr reported last October.

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This St. Petersburg, Russia, building is reportedly the home of the Internet Research Agency, a major Russian troll farm.Featured image credit: Dmitry LovetskyAP Images

According to Orr, while the USA Really Twitter account has only 577 followers, it also follows more than 1,700 accounts, almost all of which are pro-Trump “patriotic” Twitter feeds of the same type that proliferated during the 2016 campaign.

“Some of them are known figures, while others appear to be a mixture of sock-puppets, automated accounts, trolls, and actual Trump supporters,” Orr wrote. Most of the accounts that follow USA Really on Twitter are also highly pro-Trump — which according to Orr may or may not mean that those accounts are Russian-controlled.

“Having said that, it’s a pretty damning indictment of Trump and his supporters that a Russian operation targeting Americans knows that it has a receptive audience in pro-Trump social media users — and that it can appeal to Trump supporters by parroting attacks on U.S. institutions like the FBI and other law enforcement agencies,” she wrote.