Reddit blocked the accounts of the publication USA Really, but its founder denies any connection with the “troll factory”.
Users Reddit found that two Russian publications for more than a year regularly used for “propaganda” section dedicated to the fans of Trump. At least one of them, USA Really, is openly funded by an agency that is associated with the “troll factory”, and is headed by its member, the Public Chamber of Russia, Alexander Malkevich.
The administration of Reddit blocked the placement of links to publications of both editions, which were also subject to sanctions from Facebook. The US media saw in the work of USA Really a new tactic of Russia’s interference in US policy, but the editor-in-chief denies any connection with the “troll factory”.
What did the Russian “propaganda” look like on Reddit and why did the domains of publications block
Reddit, which is called the “home page of the Internet,” often uses small publications to obtain traffic. In the Alexa (Amazon) rating, the service ranked 15th in terms of attendance in the world. The publication of a publication on the main page of Reddit usually brings a large influx of traffic to the site. According to the accusations, publications from Russia used a service audience for political manipulation.
On September 20, the user Reddit with the nickname DivestTrump (“Expose Trump”) published a detailed post on sabreddi FuckTheAltRight (“***** [to hell) alternatively right “) with a complaint about Russian “propaganda”.
DivestTrump reported that at the most popular forum of US Presidential supporters / the_donald with 600 thousand subscribers, links to the publications of USA Really and Brutalist began to appear more often (the site is no longer available). The links were disguised so that they seemed to lead to the sites geotus.army and geotus.band. However, during the transition, they redirected to some of the materials of USA Really.
The acronym GEOTUS stands for God Emperor of the United States (from English “God Emperor of the United States”) and came into use thanks to fans of Donald Trump on r / the_donald. Sabbredit is dedicated to memes, political discussions and conspiracy.
Brutalist.press and USA Really have been using the Reddit audience for more than a year, BuzzFeed News noted , calling the sites “right”. The publication has counted 500 references from Reddit to Brutalist alone during this period.
Brutalist publications were distributed only with the help of Reddit, while there were practically no activity on other resources, according to BuzzSumo analytical service. For example, materials about DNA-testing companies and racism or a scandal with Muslims in Belgium received thousands of reposts with Reddit, but none of Facebook or Twitter.
Brutalist stopped publishing its materials on the Sabreddit August 24. A week later on sabreddits, the first links to USA Really appeared, BuzzFeed noted.
A few hours later the publication of DivestTrump about “propaganda” disappeared with Reddit. Since it was not clear whether the user himself did this or the moderators that occurred gave rise to conspiracy theories that in fact the service administration does not support accusations of Russia’s interference in American politics. DivestTrump later in a separate post stated that removes both accounts (and leaves a third “in good hands”), because he did not want to waste time on “death threats, witch hunt and the usual sarcasm redditovsky without good reason on that.”
Reddit banned the domains of USA Really, geotus.army, geotus.band and Brutalist.press. The company explained the introduction of measures against domains with violation of internal rules, namely their “manipulative behavior.” The internal investigation of the domains mentioned in the publication of DivestTrump has reached the final stage, a representative of Reddit said.
We have a team that monitors compliance with site rules, calculates suspicious users (bad actors, “bad actors”) and creates technical solutions to prevent them in the future.
What is known about the “right” publications created in Russia that support the policy of Trump
According to the Whois service information about registered domains, Brutalist.press has a Moscow IP address and is located on a server that is supported by “Yandex”. By the time the article is written, the Brutalist site and the Facebook page do not work, but the twitter and instalgram of the publication are still in the public domain – although they are no longer active.
Brutalist launched on August 25, 2016, two months and 13 days before the presidential elections in the United States. Under the assumption of investigative journalists, the publication was invented by the St. Petersburg developer Alex Antonov, referred to as one of the two creators of the site.
Reporters found on the site “My Circle” job Frontend-developer in “Brutalist” on June 26, 2017. The authors of the application described their work as follows: “We are broadcasting in English abroad – we are discussing what is not accepted in the West. Subjects – traditional values, defemination, deliberalization, development of masculinity, intellectualism “. The story about myself was suggested to be sent to [email protected]
According to the vacancy, Brutalist employees meet periodically in St. Petersburg. It is in this city that the “Internet Research Agency” is located, which is associated with the “troll factory” and businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, close to Vladimir Putin. Both the “factory” and Prigogine are under American investigation.
— Brutalist Media Platform (@brutalistPress) August 24, 2018
“How many more lost lives and ruined families will there be?” BUILD THE BLIND WALL »
USA Really works with an IP address in the US state of Missouri, but its domain is registered in Russia, and the site is hosted on the server belonging to the Reg.Ru hoster. The company’s page in LinkedIn says that it works from Moscow and has one employee – SMM-keeper Dmitry Kukushkin. Any details about it in open sources could not be found. On his personal Facebook page, there are only three records, the last of which is posted on September 26, after the NYT investigation. The picture shows a two-headed eagle at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.
In August, a member of the Public Chamber of Russia, Alexander Malkevich, toldYahoo News that he became editor-in-chief of USA Really. According to the interview, Facebook blocked the publication page six hours after launch, when it had zero subscribers and 3-4 stories. Now USA Really is again available on Facebook. Malkevich is friends with Kukushkin in this social network, which confirms their working relations.
The Moscow office of USA Really is located in the same building as the “Federal News Agency”, allegedly connected with the “troll factory”. Malkevich confirmed to the AP that USA Really receives funding from the FAN, but said that “absolutely does not understand this spy mania.”
The USA Really website does not advertise its Russian roots. In the “About Us” section , there are no specific names, but only a working mail on the .com domain. Many of the themes of USA Really are similar to those that were spread by “Prigogine’s Russian trolls” in 2016: Trump’s criticism, censorship in the US, fake news, racial questions, criminality and conflicts with the police.
Who is the creator of USA Really, who denies connection with the “troll factory”
Alexander Malkevich is from St. Petersburg, he is 43 years old, he started his career in journalism (“Five corners”) and the St. Petersburg Committee for Press. Later he became a media manager and received a professional award in 2012, 2015 and 2017 for success on regional television.
In 2017, Malkevich was elected to the Public Chamber of Russia from the Omsk region. It is an advisory body that arranges open discussions of various issues and is financed from the budget. Members of the OP personally approve the president of Russia. The OP does not pay salaries to its members, they often act as experts on television.
At a meeting with the journalist The New York Times, Malkevich came in a T-shirt with a reproduction of a painting by Vasily Lozhkin, which depicts two caricature spies and says “The Motherland hears.” Glavred USA Really took an interpreter with him, but mostly spoke English himself, according to a correspondent, with a big accent.
Malkevich said that he did not know any of the so-called “troll factories.” He distanced himself from attempts to interfere in the elections of 2016, saying that “the son is not responsible for his father.” According to the media manager, he is interested in cooperation and friendship between Russia and the United States.
I can not imagine how several people from Russia, Australia or Japan can change the electoral alignment in the United States. Why do some members of the deep state [ deep state , conspiracy theory, whose adherents argue about the existence of secret managers in the country – believe Americans so stupid?
In a video where Malkevich criticizes the US authorities for censorship, behind his back is a US map with notes on the problems in every state – from poverty and crime to mass attacks on schools and the racial issue. The media manager explained to NYT that this is a “normal” map and it helps editors in their work.
According to Malkevich, 15 people from Moscow and several authors from the USA work in USA Really. One of the American columnists of the publication told the NYT that it receives $ 50-100 for the material and never met in the publication with censorship or instructions on “observing the party line”. The site collects an average of five to 10 thousand visitors per day.
Glavred USA Really shared plans to turn the publication into an online directional version of RT TV channel and Sputnik agency. Both are financed from the Russian budget and, in the opinion of US intelligence, are part of the Kremlin’s “official propaganda machine.” However, if the USA Really account in Facebook was frozen, the RT and Sputnik profiles still exist.
Malkevich in the American media is more like not an ominous propagandist, but a character of Sasha Baron Cohen. In June, he planned to hold a rally near the White House, but canceled it, because he did not receive permission. He planned to participate in the roundtable on fake news in the Washington office of WeWork, but his membership suddenly stopped. And NBC News described him as a man who runs the latest Russian propaganda publication or, at least, tries.
Why such publications now may be needed
NYT, which in September released a large survey of the investigation of interference in the elections, saw the differences between the “trolls” in 2016 and the current work of USA Really. If during the election campaign, real users were hiding behind the faces, for example, Republicans and Black Lives Matter activists, many of the authors of the Malkevich edition use real names. Some write materials for other pro-Kremlin media and think tanks.
In a conversation with NYT, the head of the research organization New Knowledge suggested that USA Really is a simplified version of the “Internet Research Agency”, designed to reach a wider American audience.
According to the research group Bellingcat, USA Really can be a “bait”, distracting attention from less obvious Russian campaigns. According to another hypothesis of cybersecurity experts, the publication “experiments with new tactics and verifies the boundaries of what is allowed in American social media.” If you believe this version, USA Really could become part of the propaganda operation ahead of the November midterm elections in the United States.
The USA Really website indicates the official goal of the work: “To keep a strong real democracy and to discuss the events that affect our daily life.”