During the 2016 election, Russian-linked bots and trolls on social media attempted to inflame relations among Americans by spreading fake news and highlighting vulnerable racial and political divisions. They bought ads on Twitter and shared posts on Facebook, concealing their identities while pretending to be real Americans.
But the Kremlin has another, more conspicuous way of spreading propaganda and trolling the West that doesn’t normally get as much attention.
In the last few years, Russia has used official government Twitter accounts to undermine the West and hit back against criticism, often with tantalizing and meme-filled rhetoric. The Twitter accounts of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and its Embassy in the UK, both of which tweet in English, have been particularly active.
On March 6, 2018 for example, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May slammed Russia for planting fake stories and Photoshopping images on social media “in an attempt to sow discord in the West,” Russia’s MFA tweeted a satirical response.
This was one of several examples of official Russian government tweets aimed at sparking controversy among Moscow’s adversaries.
In a report published in November 2017, the watchdog group Freedom House noted that in few places is “the hypocritical link between state propaganda and legal restrictions on the media stronger than in Russia.” This gives Russia monopoly over the flow of information within its borders. Increasingly, the report says, Russia has used similar information manipulation tactics abroad.
Here are 10 other times Russia has used its official Twitter accounts to troll Western leaders and the media:
1. The Russian Embassy in the UK reacted to former President Barack Obama expelling diplomats and closing Russian compounds in December 2016 in retaliation for meddling in the US election.
2. Stories of Russian hacking and election interference became more widespread in the US, and the Russian Embassy was at it again.
3. Theresa May said Belgium was meddling in its general election — and Russia was happy they weren’t being accused this time.
4. The CIA tweeted it was looking for Americans who can speak Russian and who are interested in national security issues. Of course, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a response.
5. Hillary Clinton visited the UK to promote her new book about the 2016 election in October 2017, and the embassy drew a parallel between what she was condemning.
6. Newspapers reported that pundits are trying to prevent the Trump administration from smoothing US-Russia relations, and the Russian Embassy responded with a Pepe the Frog meme the alt-right uses.
7. Amid fears of spying, England said its football team would travel in Russia with a surveillance team. The Russian Embassy shot back with a zinger about England’s football team.
8. Critics alleged that President Donald Trump is a Russian pawn, and the Russian Embassy shared a meme from The Great Gatsby.
9. The British member of parliament leading the UK investigation into Russian election meddling talked about fake news, and the Russian Embassy egged him on with some #ThursdayThoughts.
10. On March 7, 2018, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert sent a series of tweets that condemned Russia’s military involvement in Syria, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a low blow.