One of the leading Russian Twitter trolls posted multiple times in response to the Manchester bombing, further raising concerns over Russian attempts to influence British politics.
The account, @southlonestar, posted at least ten times around the Manchester bombing in May 2017, which killed 22 people. As the attack unfolded, the Russian troll also retweeted a post from Westmonster, a political blog created and funded by leading Leave campaigner Arron Banks.
The posts, which have all been captured by the Internet Archive were largely in support of those affected by the incident. The Russian troll tweeted: “Some trolls using pictures of youtube celebrities to make a joke of Manchester tragedy. I love 4chan users but it’s just too much…” alongside a fake picture of one person believed to be missing following the explosion. The Russian account had 53,900 followers at the time of the attack.
“ISIS accounts celebrating Manchester attack,” the Russian account wrote in another post. “Disgusting.” Other posts around the terrorist attack included retweets of missing people and news updates attributed to legitimate media accounts. One tweet alongside a screen capture of an alleged pro-Isis account saying it was responsible for the attack said: “Who would have thought….”
In one instance @southlonestar retweeted a post from @TEN_GOP, another known Russian account. The tweet was allegedly sharing a video of dashcam car footage captured near the scene of the explosion. One other tweet was a retweet of Westmonster, the Breitbart-style news website launched by Arron Banks earlier this year. At the time of the retweet Westmonster had 17,000 followers. It now has more than 30,000.
The posts from the Russian account around the Manchester bombing were all saved at 0933 on May 23 by the Internet Archive and are shown to be from at least ten hours beforehand. The Archive has captured tweets from @southlonestar on 27 different occasions.
The @southlonestar account, created in 2015, has already been found tweeting racist comments after the Westminster Bridge terror attack and has been identified as a Russian propaganda tool by Twitter in evidence provided to the US Congress.
In June, another Russian account named @Pamela_Moore13 (58,000 followers at the time), tweeted about the terrorist attack at London Bridge. Archived posts were captured from the account minutes after the attack started. Posts from the Russian troll account shared breaking news from Sky News, amongst others.
Throughout 2016 and 2017, @southlonestar regularly posted about the UK and Europe. “UK voted to leave future European Caliphate! #BrexitVote,” the account posted the day after the EU referendum. “I hope UK after #BrexitVote will start to clean their land from muslim invasion!” it sent on the same day. Another post offered congratulations for people who had voted to “take control of their country”.
Two days after the Brexit vote, @southlonestar referred to earlier comments around negotiations, “UK, remember when Obama threatened to send ‘to the back of the queue’ if you leave? His allies are not UK but ISIS”. The month after the account posted about Brexit, it also tweeted “RIP UK. It’s not okay and it’ll never be okay to support oppressive religion #fuckislam”.
In the months before the Manchester bombing, @southlonestar had tweeted anti-Muslim and anti-Islam posts on multiple occasions. “Christians murdered in #Egypt today by Islamic terrorists. Media will say it has #NothingToDoWithIslam #PalmSunday,” the account posted on April 9. In another post, the Russian troll wrote, “Muslims are completely fucked up”.
The account also bragged about its tweets being used included in media reports. “Thank you again, British libs. Now I’m even more famous!” @southlonestar posted after a tweet about the Westminster Bridge attack was included in a story published by The Sun. “Wow… I’m on the Daily Mail front page!” it said of its inclusion on Mail Online.
Other tweets from @southlonestar during 2016 referenced terror attacks in Munich, Brussels and Nice. Russia-linked Twitter accounts also targeted posts around terror attacks, as previously reported by WIRED.
The revelations of Russia’s attempts to influence politics outside of the US have been criticised by UK prime minister Theresa May. At the Lord Mayor’s banquet on Monday evening May accused Russia of trying to “weaponise information”, adding that it would not succeed.
Officials from Russia have reacted angrily to May’s comments. Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s parliament said the country was not trying to “undermine the international system of rules,” according to the BBC.
“The world order that suits May, with the seizure of Iraq, war in Libya, the rise of IS and terrorism in Europe, has had its day,” Alexei Pushkov, a Russian senator said. “You can’t save it by attacking Russia.”
In addition, the Leave.EU Twitter account reposted a statement from Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the UK, which said May’s comments were “insulting”. The ambassador’s full statement says: “I am calling on the unscrupulous journalists and politicians: stop imposing this fake agenda, don’t try to solve your problems at our expense!”