John Bauer illustration from Walter Stenström’s “The boy and the trolls or The Adventure”, 1915 (cropped), via Wikipedia.

A Case Study of Russian Trolls

(and a possible link to the “pee tape”)

While investigating the tweets surrounding an event involving Donald Trump, I discovered nine accounts which are apparently all centrally managed for some similar purpose.

Basic account information of nine Russian bot/troll accounts
  • Most of the accounts I’d found suspicious had been opened with a couple of months of each other, and most of them had become inactive around the same time.
  • Most of the accounts had a similar number of tweets.
  • The accounts all seemed very heavy with retweet content.
  • Outside of the threads related to this event, the accounts almost never used English.
Basic analysis of Russian bot/troll accounts. (“Ru”=Russian language, “En”=English language)
Weekly tweets, stacked in order by type.
Identical tweets between each account pair. Retweets on the left, “original” (non-reply) content that was identical on the right.
Weekly tweets, with content that is identical to at least one other user shaded in grey.

“Though someone loved in Russia”

The event that first drew my attention to these accounts were responses on Twitter to realdonaldtrump after he returned from his Moscow trip in November 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant — the trip in which the Steele dossier claims that the Russians obtained compromising videos of Trump in the Moscow Ritz Carlton. These Russian bot/troll accounts were all activated on this occasion to respond in English to threads initiated by Trump himself.

A sampling of threads the trolls participated in with Trump after Miss Universe. Note that the “handyandy0223” account was not included in my analysis. At the time of posting, it had only two tweets, both to Trump around this time.

‘He wasn’t a politician, we didn’t even know about his political ambitions,’ Putin said. ‘Do they think that our special services are hunting for every U.S. billionaire?’

And yet, a collection of Russian troll accounts, which had all been doing their troll work for more than a year, were activated on this occasion to send messages to Trump. Not to push a hashtag, or to promote Trump’s tweet with retweets or likes. But to communicate. Clearly, there were Russians who were interested in Trump at this time.

Better Tools for the Battle

Where to go from here? I only analyzed a handful of accounts. I didn’t analyze any of the Russian accounts that answered in Russian at that time, although it’s definitely worth a look. (Note that two accounts I did analyze were dropped as having no statistical connection to the above set of trolls.) I didn’t widen my search beyond these threads, although it’s possible there’s more there to unearth.

Just a guy with too many interests.