Russian propaganda ‘troll farm’ targeted UC Berkeley with divisive tweets last spring

Lianne Frick/Senior Staff

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A now-defunct twitter account run by a Russian propaganda organization spread divisive tweets about UC Berkeley to its more than 100,000 followers last spring, during the time when Ann Coulter and other conservative speakers were scheduled to appear on campus.

The account, @TEN_GOP, was run by the Internet Research Agency, a pro-Kremlin “troll farm” whose about 100 employees spread propaganda through various online sources. Twitter has since shut down @TEN_GOP, which masqueraded as a platform representing the Republican Party in Tennessee.

Tweets from @TEN_GOP about UC Berkeley included a string of heated tweets in response to Coulter cancelling her speech on campus. @TEN_GOP applauded conservative activists and condemned the campus.

“Well done! Proud of all you Patriots! #BerkeleyProtest,” read one tweet, in response to a protester reading Coulter’s speech at a campus rally. “So, the president of Mexico is allowed to speak at Berkeley but an American citizen is banned? Seriously, this is infuriating,” read another tweet from the account.

Former ASUC president and UC Berkeley graduate William Morrow said the ability of foreign propaganda organizations to spread misinformation through accounts like @TEN_GOP has serious implications for both the campus and the country.

“It’s easy to write off the significance of these accounts,” Morrow said. “But if just one of those (violent protestors) became radicalized because of misinformation from these accounts and decided that they needed to show up and be violent in response, then that has huge impacts on not just student life and safety, but on the nature of our democracy.”

Adjunct professor of political science and executive director of the Berkeley Program in Eurasian and East European Studies, Edward W. Walker, said that attacks like these tweets are part of a broad and long-running Russian campaign to weaken the West. And according to Walker, that campaign is becoming more effective.

“(Russia has) been trying to destabilize and disrupt western countries, and they’re getting increasingly sophisticated about it,” Walker said. “They’re not fussy about who they use in the West — it doesn’t matter if they’re on the far right or far left, or if they believe in crazy things.”

UC Berkeley is not the only college campus affected by the @TEN_GOP account. Last week, Drexel University placed political science professor George Ciccariello-Maher on involuntary leave after @TEN_GOP shared a controversial tweet from the professor last year, which then went viral. @TEN_GOP’s post, which included both the tweet and commentary, gained over 2,000 retweets and was quoted in USA Today.

“The vast majority of the people that they are helping to empower don’t view themselves as Russian agents,” Walker said. “They don’t know that Russia is helping to amplify their line, or care.”

According to Adam Steinbaugh, a reporter at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education who covered the situation at Drexel, the tweet’s popularity, and the university’s reaction, may indicate that @TEN_GOP and accounts like it have measurable influence on college campuses and beyond.

“These accounts have an impact on academic freedom and free speech,” Steinbaugh said. “The university gave into the wave of threats generated by these accounts.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.

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  • ImACarrot

    This is kind of funny since the “violent protestors” are just a bunch of commie kids that think normal people are nazis. I dare “professors” like Cicc-Maher to stand up to a man and declare loudly to the public, in a way that everyone who sends their kids to college know, that you are Marxists. Then we can watch you all get put on leave as Americans use their fundamental right to resist your evil ideology. You will not take my rights. I will not sit in your gulag. You will perish on the path.

  • The_Bishop_of_D

    The irony of the situation ought not be lost on those who remember “Tail Gunner” Joe McCarthy, the “Pink Lady” campaign of Richard Nixon, and the commie under the bed scare mongering of the fifties. The political right wing has been engaging in the “red scare” as long as I can remember, yet as soon as they find it politically advantageous, a de facto alliance is created. The dystopian alliance between the Trump administration, “alt-right” movement and the Putin regime is the stuff of nightmares for an ostensibly free and open society. One might reasonably conclude that the threat to democracy that this country’s political right wing has been warning us about along is in fact that very same political right wing.

    • California Defender

      “Well done! Proud of all you Patriots! #BerkeleyProtest,” read one tweet, in response to a protester reading Coulter’s speech at a campus rally. “So, the president of Mexico is allowed to speak at Berkeley but an American citizen is banned? Seriously, this is infuriating.”

      The article describes this as misinformation. You indicate it’s a dystopian nightmare.

      Neither of the tweets are misinformation or dystopian. In fact, they seem quite reasonable. If you want an “ostensibly” (how about actual?) free and open society, allowing intellectuals such as Coulter to speak would be the first step.

      • The_Bishop_of_D

        What part of the fact that the tweets were intentional misinformation don’t you understand? It would appear that you need some review of U.S. Constitutional history: There are two fundamental theories underlying the rationale for the existence of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. Curiously enough, they are superficially antithetical. The short, short versions are known as “the truth will out” and the “Hyde Park” theories. The latter ought to be obvious: let people blow off steam, and the “marketplace of ideas” will sort it out. The “truth will out” theory is a bit more complicated in its implementation, but it requires a Fourth estate which has a vested interest in dissemination of factual material more than it the Stentorian trumpeting of political propaganda.

        • California Defender

          What is understandable is that the establishment is using the exact method they decry to attempt to disrupt the populist movement that is sweeping America and the world. But this attempt is clearly failing as the grassroots rejection of “stentorian trumpeting of political propaganda” by corporate media is at the heart of this movement.

          Regardless of that, in your opinion, how are the quoted tweets misinformation?

          • The_Bishop_of_D

            The quoted tweets are intentionally so. What does it take to get that inside your pointy little head?

    • C Bierbauer78

      Well, it appears that we live at the end of times. Good people will not go down easily…

      • California Defender

        I thought you guys said that exact same thing in 2000 after the last hanging chad was counted.

        You may have been right, but fortunately those good people didn’t go down after 8 terrible years of Bush. Even another 8 horrible years of Obama didn’t take them down. That is the resilience of the American spirit.

    • Agincourt

      McCarthy was right, soviets were in the State Department

      and Democrats let them in

      • The_Bishop_of_D

        So the gist of the statement is that if the Democrats (remember that much of the misconduct complained of by Joe McCarthy occurred during the Eisenhower administration) let the Soviets get away with it through negligence, it’s somehow OK for the Republicans presently in power to collude with the Russians? Pardon me for commenting that there is nothing that even remotely resembles logic that could possibly provide a foundation for your remark.

        • Agincourt

          Democrats are actually colluding with Russians
          Pay attention to reality, moron

          • The_Bishop_of_D

            The Russians own Trump. Follow the money, moron.

          • Agincourt


        • ImACarrot

          We have know since 2015 that Hillary traded Uranium to the Russians for a donation to her slush fund foundation. We have known for months now that Fusion GPS was hired by the DNC & HIllary to create the Steele “dossier” that started all of this idiocy in the first place. We know that the information that wikileaks released about Hillary & the DNC colluding was not hacked, but leaked, by Seth Rich, who dws shot in the back walking home from a party that he was at with Awan.

          Now I have been called a “troll” for simply realizing things like Hillary was bad. But maybe you are right. Maybe I decided the election =]

          • The_Bishop_of_D

            Trying to discredit the Steele dossier on the basis of one of the (at least three) sources of its funding is disingenuous, invalid and logically unsupportable as it is an nothing more than a thinly disguised ad hominem attack. I do not find any reasonable basis for claiming or disclaiming accuracy of the Steele dossier based upon its source of funding (originally instituted by the Republicans, later picked up by the DNC, but essentially irrelevant in both cases). What matters is whether or not the facts and implications of the facts as disclosed by the dossier are either accurate, or lead to other evidence which supports impeachment and/or criminal indictments.

          • ImACarrot

            The Steele Dossier discredits itself. Steele is a foreign agent. So right there you have your “collusion with a foreign government”. Are you trying out for the MSM? You are just wrong. If you take that as an “ad hominen” aka personal attack then that is on you Mr Roberts Rules. The truth is Hillary is dirty and we knew it before she even ran.

            Tim Kaine: “Apparently Some Funds” For Steele Dossier Were “Paid For By The Clinton Campaign”

            You are a victim of propaganda. There is nothing to the Trump Russia investigation anymore than the fact that a bunch of racist metrosexuals couldn’t face the fact that their hubris led them down the wrong road in life.If you choose to live a lie that is on you. The MSM has been saying that opposition research with a foreign agent is treason. That has never been true, but that is what they have been saying. HIllary did it. Turmp didn’t . Facts.

          • The_Bishop_of_D

            Your argument has a number of fatal flaws, and at least one of omission, which should not come as a surprise. Let me start with the obvious one: Steele as a foreign agent: He was a former member of MI-6, which is British intelligence, an agency with which the US intelligence services almost always cooperates, so don’t make me laugh. It doesn’t matter who created the dossier. What matters is what portions of it are true. At the present time, it appears that virtually all the analyses contained therein are independently supported by other sources. It even appears that the Mueller investigation did not rely on the Steele dossier in the course of the investigation, as it had no need. Further, all the US intelligence agencies which have examined the dossier have concluded that it is largely accurate.

            The entire Trump administration is up to its neck in criminality. Given the behavioral tendencies of the political right, far right and alt-right, the little fish in the pond will fall all over each other in lame attempts to cover their own gluteals, and bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.

            Extract your head from your obvious rectocranial inversion and face the facts.

          • ImACarrot

            Stop lying.

            But the dossier’s author, Steele, wasn’t brought into the mix until after Democrats retained Fusion GPS. So while both sides paid Fusion GPS, Steele was only funded by Democrats.


          • The_Bishop_of_D

            Stop avoiding the issue. The author of the dossier is fundamentally irrelevant. The validity or invalidy of the facts alleged to be contained therein are. It is becoming obvious that the allegations contained within the dossier are factually accurate. Quod erat demonstrandum.

          • ImACarrot

            Absolutely nothing in the dossier has been corroborated. Latin wont make you right lol.

          • The_Bishop_of_D

            First: stop fooling yourself. You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Second: learn you to use apostrophes (‘). Third: if you want to resort to acronyms: roflmao.

          • ImACarrot
  • the devil

    I saw that coming. Foreign agitation is prominent where weak minded Americans are very open to racism and bigotry. We could say, they asked for it. It’s no different than the crap on KSFO all day.

    • California Defender

      Weak minded Americans ask for racism and bigotry? Perhaps you’re correct, but they inhabit the left, not the right.

      Sure, foreign “agitation” happens. The US wrote the book on it and does it to greater effect than any other nation on Earth. Still, if the end result of this agitation is a more open and free society, shouldn’t that be welcomed? After all, it was French agitation during the American Revolution that helped us win.