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Russian trolls used a woman to fool people around the world

troll factory st petersburg

In photos, she looks like she is in her early 20s, but she lived for only three years. During this time, Jenna Abrams has achieved more than many other people. She has appeared in almost every major US media, from the New York Times to CNN, to Breitbart’s right portal. History professors, journalists and diplomats responded to her tweets. Her account was followed by more than 70,000 Twitter users. A remarkable achievement for a young American. Even more remarkable, Jenna Abrams became an internet celebrity without ever existing. She only existed on the net. Nobody knows who made up the phantom. Maybe a young woman wrote her tweets, maybe it was an old man. The only thing we know is: The account was controlled from Russia.

Abrams is a product of the notorious Internet Research Agency. Hundreds of people work in a nondescript office building in Saint Petersburg. No company sign reveals what is produced here. The client of the mostly young, often uneducated shiftworkers is the Russian state. Their mission: to cause confusion in the West. They comment on European news sites, spread Kremlin propaganda or create fake Ukrainian websites. And as has been known for several months, they have actively interfered in the US election campaign.

The troll factories were part of the Russian disinformation campaign, which tried to influence the political mood in the US with social bots, fake accounts and Facebook ads. Therefore, the top lawyers of Facebook, Twitter and Google had to testify last week in front of the US Congress. The group of companies presented the secret service, advertisements that had been switched on the platforms from Russia. The material also apparently contained references to Jenna Abrams.

Meanwhile, her Twitter account has disappeared, and anyone who tries to write an e-mail will receive an error message. Before her digital death, Abrams was a perfect example of professional propaganda. In October 2014, she created an account on Twitter. In the following years, she devoted herself to all sorts of topics. She blasphemed Kim Kardashian’s appearance, complained about complex comma rules and explained why she was growing armpit hair. With this tweet she made it into the British BBC. Her comments were cynical, pointed and funny. After a short period of time she had collected tens of thousands of followers.

So far, so harmless. But the presidential election came closer and her statements became more political. “I’m not pro-Trump, I’m for common sense” was one of her tweets. In fact, Abrams increasingly took up controversial topics. She published a blog entry about racial segregation, made fun of the Black Lives Matter movement, and called Hillary Clinton a liar. Several prominent users, including reputed journalists and actress Roseanne Barr, disagreed with her tweets. Even the former US ambassador for Moscow, who was supposed to be an expert in Russian propaganda, was open to discussions with the fake account. Even Michael Flynn Junior the old security adviser got fooled by Abrams. Shortly before the election, he shared one of her tweets with his followers.

“Our mission was not to inspire Americans for Russia,” said a former employee of the Petersburg troll factory recently. “Our job was to raise Americans against their government.” That’s what the trolls successfully did with Jenna Abrams.