Russian charged with attempted election interference

A Russian who allegedly worked on funding online propaganda efforts to manipulate voters in the 2016 and 2018 elections was charged with a federal crime as part of a wider conspiracy to hurt American democracy.

Posted: Oct 21, 2018 7:14 AM
Updated: Oct 21, 2018 7:19 AM

Last year, Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance by video at the BET Awards, where Chance The Rapper was being honored for his charity work in Chicago.

Social media, naturally, went wild.

Among those catching the Twitter wave was @Crystal1Johnson, whose bio said she was from Richmond, Virginia, and who described the "responsibility to promote the positive things that happen in our communities."

Crystal's tweet praising the former first lady's Ivy League education was shared more than 120,000 times and liked by 325,000 users, according to a CNN analysis of data released by Twitter. In fact the post, the day after the awards show, went viral more than any tweet she and her colleagues ever posted.

Her colleagues at Russian intelligence, that is.

"Crystal1Johnson," since suspended form the social media platform, was a fake Russian account run by the Internet Research Agency (IRA), according to Twitter.

It's one of thousands released this week by Twitter as part of a huge 9-million-tweet collection of the Russian group's activities -- the most comprehensive accounting to date of the so-called IRA's efforts to use fake social media posts to inflame American society and influence its elections.

There's evidence Russian meddling has continued into the 2018 election; federal prosecutors charged 44-year-old Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, of St. Petersburg, Russia, with conspiracy to defraud the United States for her work with the Internet Research Agency.

Prosecutors alleged in a complaint unsealed Friday she aided the Russian effort to "inflame passions" online related to immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women's March and the NFL National Anthem debate from December 2016 until May 2018.

Although not directly related, the allegations against Khusyaynova track with the data released by Twitter that sheds fresh light on just how pervasive -- and ongoing -- that Russian interference effort has been.

It also lays bare just how sophisticated the Russian operation became in presenting content that by appearance did not appear pernicious in nature -- and in fact promoted seemingly positive messages in many instances, to gain larger followings.

The Crystal1Johnson account was the most retweeted of any IRA fake identity in the newly released records -- her posts were shared a total of nearly 4 million times, according to CNN's analysis. Her account remained active throughout the 2016 election cycle and into 2017.

While the account spread positive stories about African-American parents and a woman who helped desegregate New Orleans' schools, it also at times took a more pointed tone about the treatment of minorities. In 2016, the account highlighted a case where "police brutally assault and arrest teacher, for no reason," and last year one tweet stated, "Anybody ever think this is why black people would throw the fist up."

The Russians loved a late-night comedy show

The new records also show the seeming absurdity of who was most likely to get shout-outs by the Russian accounts.

One of the most frequent Twitter handles mentioned in the entire 9-million-tweet collection is actually @midnight -- the rather obscure late-night game show that aired on Comedy Central during the week -- according to CNN's analysis.

The Russian trolls just loved @midnight: they shared clips from the show, live-tweeted jokes, retweeted arcane hashtags related to it and tagged the show's handle in all kinds of posts. It may not be immediately clear how "I Dream of Barbie #MakeTVShowsAustralian" or "Whiskers, Texas Ranger #CatTV @midnight" served the Russian cause.

But there may be one clue: midnight east coast time, when the show airs, is 7 a.m. in St. Petersburg, when many Russian officers behind the IRA might be starting their days.

Pre-election tweetstorms

A close examination of the fake tweets from the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign reveals new details about the Russian-backed accounts posting blatantly political messages that could influence covers, but also how many of the accounts were more subtle: posing as news outlets and tweeting about conventional stories. Seemingly flying under the radar to build a user following and amplify issues it wanted in the bloodstream of American discourse.

One account that claimed to be a newspaper in Chicago tweeted about "Cubs fever" as the city's baseball team progressed in the MLB playoffs. An account supposedly in Phoenix posted about a tractor-trailer accident that was closing traffic. Often the posts included links to real news sites.

Sometimes the underlying political motivations were crystal clear. "Wikileaks is revealing truth about Hillary," said one account as WikiLeaks released a deluge of hacked emails from Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. Another account said Republican voters "will not accept a Clinton win," amplifying Trump's claims of a rigged race and stoking fears of post-election chaos.

As CNN and others have previously reported, many of the troll accounts posed as activists and highlighted violence against African Americans and other racial tensions in American society.

Some of the accounts latched onto popular hashtags to get viral clicks, and perhaps gain followers. One account, posing as a woman from Pittsburgh, joined in on a popular hashtag about roller derby and suggested "Donald Thump" and "Killary Clinton" as team names.

Dozens of trolls posted hundreds of tweets with the hashtag #BetterAlternativeToDebates during the second presidential debate, perhaps in an attempt to make the meme go viral. One proposed playing "Russian Roulette (As long as Putin doesn't get to supply the gun)." Another account wryly suggested, "watching paint dry." One troll said, "having sex with my ex."

One week before voters went to the polls, one of the Kremlin-backed accounts denied that Russian meddling, saying: "Russia's Putin says Moscow not trying to influence U.S. election."

Strangely enough, at least two of the lesser-followed troll accounts had a positive message for Trump after his win. One of them said, "@realDonaldTrump Congratulations from Russia!"

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 544046

Reported Deaths: 7037
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1133801672
Ramsey46957847
Dakota41493415
Anoka37550413
Washington24418273
Stearns20651216
St. Louis16500296
Scott15592116
Wright14440124
Olmsted1260496
Sherburne1031779
Carver956143
Clay769089
Rice7454101
Blue Earth682140
Kandiyohi621879
Crow Wing596486
Chisago539948
Otter Tail535173
Benton521396
Mower447732
Winona435749
Douglas434270
Goodhue431971
Nobles396848
Morrison386359
McLeod383254
Beltrami366957
Isanti363959
Itasca359451
Polk359466
Steele349714
Becker346548
Lyon343748
Carlton324352
Freeborn321729
Pine306521
Nicollet300742
Brown291239
Mille Lacs272548
Le Sueur266222
Todd265830
Cass243826
Meeker229337
Waseca227820
Martin209729
Wabasha19803
Roseau194718
Hubbard168541
Renville168543
Dodge16834
Redwood163935
Houston161814
Cottonwood152520
Fillmore15089
Pennington148719
Chippewa143736
Faribault141819
Wadena141221
Sibley133210
Aitkin127436
Kanabec126121
Watonwan12439
Rock121218
Jackson114710
Yellow Medicine109019
Pipestone107525
Murray10169
Pope9936
Swift97718
Marshall84117
Stevens79610
Lake77819
Wilkin75812
Clearwater75614
Koochiching75612
Lac qui Parle73122
Big Stone5544
Lincoln5542
Grant5398
Norman5139
Mahnomen4898
Unassigned48778
Kittson44922
Red Lake3817
Traverse3595
Lake of the Woods2962
Cook1440

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 355246

Reported Deaths: 5797
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55552598
Linn20170329
Scott18763234
Black Hawk15468306
Woodbury14792219
Johnson1387680
Dubuque13035202
Dallas1082796
Pottawattamie10627160
Story1024647
Warren549086
Clinton531989
Cerro Gordo519386
Webster506191
Sioux503473
Marshall476274
Muscatine455096
Des Moines439365
Wapello4246120
Buena Vista421240
Jasper406670
Plymouth394179
Lee366855
Marion353975
Jones292355
Henry285537
Bremer278260
Carroll277750
Crawford261739
Boone256331
Benton249155
Washington248249
Dickinson238743
Mahaska223449
Jackson217242
Kossuth211561
Clay208625
Tama206371
Delaware201039
Winneshiek192633
Page189320
Buchanan187331
Cedar182723
Fayette182641
Wright178835
Hardin178742
Hamilton177049
Harrison174673
Clayton165455
Butler161834
Mills157520
Cherokee156438
Floyd154542
Lyon153641
Madison152219
Poweshiek152133
Allamakee149051
Iowa144824
Hancock142734
Winnebago135331
Grundy134732
Cass133954
Calhoun133011
Jefferson130535
Emmet127340
Shelby126637
Appanoose126247
Louisa126049
Sac125819
Mitchell125241
Union123732
Chickasaw122015
Humboldt117926
Guthrie116828
Franklin112421
Palo Alto109622
Howard102622
Unassigned10040
Montgomery99737
Clarke98023
Keokuk94330
Monroe93228
Ida88533
Adair84032
Pocahontas83021
Monona80430
Davis79824
Greene76310
Lucas74822
Osceola73816
Worth7018
Taylor65012
Fremont60410
Decatur5899
Van Buren55318
Ringgold53322
Wayne51823
Audubon4929
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 26°
Mason City
Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 31°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 30°
Austin
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 30°
Charles City
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 34°
Cloudy and cool conditions this week
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Sean's Weather 4/13

Image

Mayo Clinic physicians out in the community

Image

Alcohol Awareness Month

Image

Jake Braaten commits to SMSU

Image

Aaron's Overnight Forecast

Image

Protests continue in wake of Daunte Wright's Death

Image

CENTURY TRACK AND FIELD

Image

Testing sirens for severe weather season in Olmsted County

Image

Police investigating weekend shooting in Mason City

Image

Aaron's Evening Forecast (4/12/21)

Community Events