NBC news ran a story titled, "Russia-linked Twitter accounts promoted ‘doxxing’ over racial tension videos." The article claims some videos that went viral on twitter featuring confrontations between white people and minorities would not have been so popular if it wasn’t for some "Russia-linked" twitter accounts.
The first incident the story mentions is from October 2018, when a white woman was caught on video calling the police on a 9-year-old black boy in Brooklyn, NY. The woman told police the boy sexually assaulted her. Surveillance video from the store the incident occurred in showed that the boy’s backpack just brushed the woman’s backside. The video is rather shocking, the boy who was accused of assaulting the woman is seen crying with his family as the woman is on the phone with 911.
But according to NBC this video only became viral because of the Russia-linked twitter accounts. The NBC article said, "Clemson University researchers have found those videos received instrumental early social media promotion from inauthentic accounts, some of which have since been removed by Twitter and linked by US intelligence to Russia’s efforts to stoke racial tensions in America."
One of the researchers said, "It’s clear in several examples that some of these stories would never have gone viral without the influence of Russian disinformation."
The video was posted on Facebook by Jason Littlejohn, the man who caught the incident on camera. Littlejohn’s video went viral and many major media outlets picked up the story. The NBC article only mentions inauthentic twitter users spreading the video, but Littlejohn’s Facebook video has over eight million views.
Littlejohn is heard in the video giving the woman the nickname "Cornerstone Caroline." The other videos cited in the NBC article have similar nicknames, "Taco Truck Tammy" and "Basketball Becky." NBC alludes to the idea that the Russia-linked accounts were responsible for the nicknames saying, "The objects of the outrage were often given alliterative nicknames."
In April of this year a Hispanic taco truck worker in Texas uploaded a video of a white woman threatening to call US immigration and Customs Enforcement. NBC says, "One of the suspicious accounts spotted by the researchers was the first to call her "Taco Truck Tammy."
The researchers came to the conclusion that "the suspicious accounts drew about half of the retweets of the encounter between the homeowner and the workers in the first two days." Even if it is true that some suspicious accounts were responsible for some of the retweets, the story drew lots of media coverage.
The researchers said the twitter accounts called on people to share the women’s private information also known as "doxxing." In both cases the women who were caught on video did interviews with local media apologizing for the incidents.
The third story mentioned in the article known as "Basketball Becky" just happened this past July. A black couple was shopping at a California Nike store and bought a basketball for their 18-month-old son. The couple left the store and the white manager came out accusing the couple of stealing the ball. The couple showed the manager and police their receipt and uploaded a video of the incident on Facebook, where the video went viral.
So how did the researchers and NBC News determine these twitter accounts were Russian in origin? According to NBC, "The researchers said they placed the accounts as probably Russian in origin based on forensic analysis of account information and behavior that they shared with NBC News."
The article also hyperlinks to a list of twitter handles affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, the Russian company indicted by Robert Mueller in 2018. Some of the handles are mentioned in the article. Two of the four twitter handles mentioned are on the list, although no specific activity was credited to these handles.
In an effort to scare the reader NBC quotes Phillip Howard, the director of the Oxford Internet Institute, "The real goal is to get the conflict off Twitter, to get it into the streets."
Blaming these twitter accounts for spreading these stories is insulting to Americans – especially minorities – who are concerned with issues minorities face. Each of the three videos are real incidents that happened to real people, two of them being children. NBC minimizes what happened to these children by stoking fears of Russian influence on the country.
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.