Tumblr has confirmed that Kremlin trolls were active on its platform during the 2016 US presidential elections.
In a blog post today the social platform writes that it is “taking steps to protect against future interference in our political conversation by state-sponsored propaganda campaigns”.
The company has also started emailing users who interacted with 84 accounts it now says it has linked to the Russian trollfarm, the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
In the blog post it says it identified the accounts last fall — and “notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted their original posts”.
“Behind the scenes, we worked with the Department of Justice, and the information we provided helped indict 13 people who worked for the IRA,” it adds.
In an email sent to a user, which was passed to TechCrunch to review, the company informs the individual they “either followed one of  accounts linked to the IRA, or liked or reblogged one of their posts”.
“As part of our commitment to transparency, we want you to know that we uncovered and terminated 84 accounts linked to Internet Research Agency or IRA (a group closely tied to the the Russian government) posing as members of the Tumblr community,” the email begins.
“The IRA engages in electronic disinformation and propaganda campaigns around the world using phony social media accounts. When we uncovered these accounts, we notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts, and deleted their original posts.”
Last month Buzzfeed News — working with researcher, Jonathan Albright, from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University — claimed to have unearthed substantial Kremlin troll activity on Tumblr’s meme-laden platform — identifying what they dubbed as “a powerful, largely unrevealed network of Russian trolls focused on black issues and activism” which they said dated back to early 2015.
The trolls were reported to be using Tumblr to push anti-Clinton messages, including by actively promoting Democrat rival Bernie Sanders.
Decrying racial injustice and police violence in the US was another theme of the Russian-linked content.
Since then The Daily Beast has also reported on leaked data from the IRA which also implied agents at the trollfarm had used Tumblr — and also Reddit — to spread political propaganda to target the 2016 US election.
Those IRA leaks suggested the IRA had created at least 21 Tumblr accounts — and included names replete with slang terms, including some accounts listed in the user email we’ve reviewed.
Tumblr, which is owned by TechCrunch’s parent company Oath, did not respond to an email we sent to their press office last month asking about possible Kremlin activity on its platform.
In today’s public post, the company writes: “As far as we can tell, the IRA-linked accounts were only focused on spreading disinformation in the U.S., and they only posted organic content. We didn’t find any indication that they ran ads.”
As well as emailing affected users, Tumblr says it will be keeping a public record of usernames linked to the IRA or “other state-sponsored disinformation campaigns”.
The full list of 84 Kremlin accounts on its public page is as follows:
- 4mysquad previously known as: thomascestevez
- aaddictedtoblackk previously known as: kathyzunigaoverhere, soaddictedtoblackk
- bastardpigeon previously known as: pigeonbastard
- bellaxiao previously known as: blogmadworldlove
- bestofninegag previously known as: apolicethepolicethings
- blackness-by-your-side previously known as: black-galaxy-magic, fullyfurrymiracle, u4guy, ufo-pilot-and-his-sexy-spouse
- blacknproud previously known as: in-the-mirror-world, indiebirdsblog, no-place-for-homophobia
- cartnsncreal previously known as: feelmydragonballs
- delroyheater previously known as: delroyheater32, mastercucumber, scrumptiousluminarytimemachine, sexinstructor666, sexintructor
- destinyrush previously known as: delightfullyghostlysong
- down-to-venus previously known as: teenageflowerluminary
- fedupwithlying previously known as: badgyalforyou
- funkycodex previously known as: craftykryptonitedelusion
- gentlexnoise previously known as: slakerglitch, superblydopepatrol
- gogomrbrown previously known as: go-mrbrown, infectedv0ice, todd-la-death
- gottimechillinaround previously known as: howardhenderson
- guns4l1fe previously known as: 4lifeme, guns4lifeme, unabashedpolicerunaway
- hustleinatrap previously known as: thenaturecanpost, tumblercube
- ineverstopexploringblog previously known as: charlenefletcher
- info-mix previously known as: americanstatistics, crazypolitician, girlsagainst, illegalmom, just-stat, rochelbarr
- joycherryblossom previously known as: joyfullyhappycherryblossom
- justmarilynadventure previously known as: justmarylinthings
- kingbeardplayer previously known as: kirksgossplayer, placeofminimalthings
- massmedear previously known as: massblog021
- melanin-diary previously known as: blackjourney2justice, dontshootus, jusslittlestoner
- morningwoodz previously known as: 5cubes, bangbangempire, empireofweird, gifemprireohh, innerpicsempire, picsempire
- nadiquitegoodatit previously known as: runlovernad
- nevaehtyler previously known as: laserenita
- noteverythingiswhite previously known as: ashleyfsilver
- poligraphme previously known as: poligraphmy
- postingwhileblack previously known as: ghettablasta, heygeraldmartinjohanssen, honestinjun, nativewolveshere
- rebellloudwiththecrowd previously known as: massivelystrangetyrant
- shoutoutworldwide previously known as: blackprideworldwide, krispymentalitycowboy
- skullofjustice previously known as: naughtykermit, ryanbutlersstuff, usnationaldebt
- somestuff4ya previously known as: somestufffoya, unitedposters
- sumchckn previously known as: blondeinpolitics, blvckcommunity, classylgbthomie, hwuudoin, politixblondie
- swagintherain previously known as: blacklivesmatterusa, carzwithgirlz
- thetrippytrip previously known as: matrixpath, themostpost
- thingstolovefor previously known as: the-inner-mirror
- this-truly-brutal-world previously known as: awesomewhitepearl, free-mind-and-soul
- voteforwest2020 previously known as: mrbadasscat
It also suggests users step in and “correct the record” when they see others spreading misinformation, regardless of whether they believe it’s being done intentionally or not.
Concluding its email to the user who had unwittingly engaged with 11 of the identified IRA accounts, Tumblr adds: “We deleted the accounts but decided to leave up any reblog chains so that you can curate your own Tumblr to reflect your own personal views and perspectives.
“Democracy requires transparency and an informed electorate and we take our disclosure responsibility very seriously. We’ll be aggressively watching for disinformation campaigns in the future, take the appropriate action, and make sure you know about it.”
Asked how he feels to learn Kremlin trolls had unknowingly infiltrated his Tumblr feeds, the user told us: “It’s unsettling, although maybe not surprising, that we legitimize and signal boost bad actors on social platforms by ‘liking’ or reposting content that doesn’t appear to have any political agenda at first glance.”