A writer who lost his job due to the pandemic explained Friday how he unwittingly became a pawn in a Russian troll farm’s apparent attempt to inflame the electorate ahead of the November election.
A man calling himself the editor of a left-wing outlet called Peace Data reached out to aspiring writer Jack Delaney in July about contributing content to the website, Delaney explained in a Guardian post Friday. The supposed editor, who went by the name Alex Lacusta, promised the 26-year-old the opportunity to write columns and get paid $200-250 per piece, Delaney wrote.
Delaney lost his part-time job at a restaurant after the pandemic as lockdowns culminated in millions of job losses and a severe economic dip. “I was in need of income and an outlet to build my portfolio. The opportunity to write a column could be the break I was hoping for,” he added.
Delaney jumped at the chance to further his writing career after reading some of Peace Data’s articles, which lambasted the Trump administration and was critical of United States’ foreign policy, according to Delaney.
Unbeknownst to Delaney, Alex Lacusta was a persona, and Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) created Peace Data to troll voters ahead of the election, Facebook noted in a report Tuesday. The platform removed a network of accounts and pages that day tied to the IRA.
IRA created Peace Data, which purports to be a left-wing outlet and features content focused on American politics, according to Graphika, a social media analytics company Facebook uses to flesh out Russia’s influence operation. A small number of Peace Data’s articles reference the 2020 election, CNN reported Tuesday.
Peace Data’s content also painted Biden and his running mate, Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris, as immoral and puppets for political conservatives, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing Graphika’s report. Peace Data created fake personas to appear legitimate, according to Graphika.
The personas then recruited American writers and activists online, according to Peace Data’s website, which is no longer active.
“I had been completely unaware of PeaceData’s links to the IRA and Russian oligarchs. I wish this had never happened and I’m not proud to be associated with it,” Delaney wrote Friday. “I’ve lost sleep because of it. I have been confused, embarrassed, and frankly angry at myself for letting the potential for a break get the best of my judgment.”
The IRA allegedly created fake identities on Twitter and Facebook in 2016 to post content aimed at aggravating U.S. voters on divisive issues. Former special counsel Robert Mueller also indicted twelve Russian intelligence officers on charges that they hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and released them through WikiLeaks.
The IRA additionally stirred up strife inside the U.S. following the 2016 election, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report published in 2019.
“After Election Day, left-leaning IRA accounts were promoting hashtags such as ‘#Impeach45,’ ‘#Resist,’ and ‘#GunReformNow,’” the report notes, adding that “right-leaning IRA accounts were focused on the NFL kneeling controversy,” as well as hashtags criticizing the FBI.
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