Russia Agitprop, Not Sending Their Best Edition

Yesterday The DailyBeast wrote up another thread of the Russian election subversion campaign on social media. The latest is a Youtube web show by “Williams” and “Kalvin Johnson”. According to their legend, Williams and Kalvin are two BLM activists from Atlanta who supported Bernie Sanders and then supported Donald Trump in the general election over the “bitch” Hillary Clinton. The show seems to have gotten only a tiny number of views on Youtube but it trafficked much more widely on Facebook and other platforms.

The production is quite clumsy on a number of fronts – not clumsy in terms of production quality but in terms of seeming like something someone living in the United States would produce, regardless of their political views. The first thing that jumps out at you is that “Williams” and “Kalvin” are almost certainly not even Americans. It seems highly unlikely they even live in the United States, let alone Atlanta. Both are clearly not native speakers of American English and probablt not native speakers of English at all. They appear to be West Africans.

It’s true that the US now has a substantial and growing African immigrant population. So it’s conceivable “Williams” and “Kalvin” are immigrants living in Atlanta who are active in the Black Lives Matter movement. But putting all the pieces together, a more simple explanation suggests itself. Far more likely these videos were filmed in Nigeria or Senegal or somewhere else in West Africa. Kalvin’s Facebook page, which hasn’t been updated since late 2015 says he lives in Atlanta and comes from Nigeria.

The Dailybeast was unable to make contact with either men and were similarly unable to get a response from any of their friends on social media. My own review of the accounts suggests a high number of barely engaged with identities that one normally finds with fake accounts.

What does it matter? I’m not quite sure. What strikes me most is the random and scattershot nature of so many of these efforts. When I first saw the write up of this account – that someone had hired real people to go on video – I was fascinated since you might have actual people in the US who were paid to do this. Are they in trouble? Are they speaking to US government investigators? That seems almost certainly not the case here. It reminds me of the way that “Guccifer 2.0” persona was quickly revealed as a phony because he claimed to be from Romania but was then unable to speak Romanian. A lot of these efforts were just comically inept.