'Russian trolls' say they're planning a Reddit AMA -- and emailed a handful of reporters with a cryptic request

  • ‘Russian trolls’ who claim to be connected to a website recently exposed as a Russian propaganda operation say they’re planning a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session.
  • The “trolls” emailed reporters on Tuesday asking them to submit questions for the AMA.
  • BlackMattersUS describes itself as “a nonprofit news outlet that delivers raw and original information on the most urgent issues important to the African-American community in America.”

Around 3 p.m. Tuesday, a handful of reporters who have written about Russia’s use of troll factories to crank out disinformation and junk news received a cryptic email from a self-professed “Russian troll” claiming to be affiliated with a propaganda site that was recently exposed as a Russian influence operation.

The email was sent to this reporter, as well as to The New Yorker’s Adrian Chen and ThinkProgress’ Casey Michel. BuzzFeed’s Ryan Brooks received the email, too. When the reporters tried to respond to the [email protected] email address on Tuesday the email bounced back — but it went through when Business Insider reached out again on Wednesday.

The individual behind the account did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. Michel said he was asked to “s
how some patience” when he asked for more details early Wednesday.

The email linked out to blackmattersus.com, a site that was exposed by Michel earlier this month as a Russian propaganda operation. The site is still active, but its landing page has been transformed into an advertisement for a Reddit AMA with “Russian trolls.”

“MR. Zuckerberg is so scared of Russian trolls that he won’t let you share our link,” the page says, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook shut down the BlackMattersUS account last month as part of its purge of 470 pages believed to be operating out of Russia.

“Joshua Smith,” the name attached to the [email protected] email address, is listed as “an editor of BlackMatters” on the website’s “About Us” section.

“Working as an independent journalist he had experienced numerous hardships trying to publish different articles which contained not only facts about race inequality but also the explanations, why things are going exactly this way,” Smith’s biography reads. “So, the only way to let people know the truth was to make his own news site.”

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Brooks noted that a cached version of the landing page featured a countdown clock and a promotional video for the AMA, which appeared to have been scheduled for October 30. An actor who was exposed by The Daily Beast as likely working for the Russians appeared in the promo.

The site describes itself as “a nonprofit news outlet that delivers raw and original information on the most urgent issues important to the African-American community in America. Our aim is to tell the bold truth about racism, inequality and injustice the mainstream media keep out-of-sight.”

But the site was also outwardly opposed to Hillary Clinton. Its Tumblr account, which has since been removed, described the Democratic presidential nominee as “Satan’s daughter,” “The root of all evil,” and “Himmlery aka (‘Death for Dollars’) — ‘The Benghazi Bulls——,'” Michel has reported.

Its website similarly villainized her as a “Candidate For the Corporate Elite” and praised a documentary produced by the far-right pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

“Most of the world now knows that Bill and Hillary Clinton have been partners in crime when it comes to dirty laundering for the Clinton Foundation and many other atrocities,” the site said. “We would like to share this new film with the community, as it may fail to go into masses or be replicated in the media because the most of the media have already been bought by the Democrats.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was also heavily promoted by BlackMattersUS.

Recent reports and an examination of the Russia-linked accounts on various social media platforms have indicated that Russia’s propaganda efforts during the 2016 election were focused primarily on exploiting divisions over issues like race and immigration.

And as Business Insider has previously reported, the accounts’ activity did not stop at posting controversial memes and hashtags — many organised events, rallies, and protests, some of which galvanised dozens of people.

Russia-linked Facebook groups like Heart of Texas and SecuredBorders tried to organise anti-immigrant rallies in Texas and Idaho in the months leading up to the election.

Another group, Being Patriotic, organised pro-Trump flash mobs across Florida in August 2016, according to The Daily Beast. And BlackMattersUS recruited an LA-based activist named Nolan Hack to amplify the group’s messaging and even stage a protest in downtown Jackson, Mississippi.

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