Russian Infiltration Of Word Press Blogs
In spite of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warning Russia to “quit messing around in our elections,” Russians have not stopped. They continue their influence and propaganda. With social media such as Facebook and Twitter taking note and making changes, Russian propagandists have turned to Word Press blogs.
Earlier this year, I received notifications from Word Press for email followers. I didn’t pay much attention to the first one because there are people who follow this blog via email who do not have Word Press accounts to comment. When I received two more notifications on the same day, and they too had Outlook email addresses, I knew that was not usual. I checked a Word Press forum and found that others were experiencing the same and were concerned about it.
“My guess is it’s an attempt to overload our (WordPress.com’s) mail servers by making us send out more subscription emails than our system can handle. The other option is that they’re hoping bloggers will email them at that address to thank them for following, which will give them access to active email addresses which they can then attempt to spam or hack directly.”
“The follows in themselves are not an actual threat, though – our system can handle many times more emails than these additional subscriptions are making us send, and there’s no way receiving these follows can compromise your site or account, so really all they’re achieving is to annoy people.”
I only access Word Press through computer, and I use the old way of assessing the Admin side of the blog. What I learned earlier this year is that if I go to the Word Press ribbon that appears at the top of the blog when I’m signed in and click “My Sites,” that I can scroll down to where it says “People”. Clicking that takes me to a screen with three tabs, one of which is labeled “Email Followers”. By clicking there, I can not only see who is following my blog via email, but I can also remove them.
Bloggers began speculating for the reason for the influx. Not all of the bloggers experiencing the influx blogged about the same interests or issues. There was no pattern that identified a possible reason for why we were being followed by weird email addresses through Outlook.
Word Press came to the rescue. Of the several Outlook email followers that I missed and had not removed, Word Press cleaned them up.
It wasn’t long thereafter when we began receiving comments with one word — “What?” It was the response to every comment on a post. Because I use the option that participants must be signed in via a Word Press account, (Twitter and Facebook are also acceptable), those “What?” responses went directly into the spam queue.
Some other bloggers weren’t so lucky.
In June, myself and other Word Press bloggers discovered that likes were being clicked to comments on our blogs, and the Gravatar accounts for those doing it ranged from strange to filthy. Whomever it was clicking like to comments were stalking bloggers to other blogs where they commented and clicking like there. It happened to me. I disengaged the like option for comments on my blog until Word Press resolved the issue.
Someone on a Word Press forum stated that the Gravatar profiles contained links to websites for Russian escort services. It was also suggested that the real purpose was not to sell Russian escort services, but an effort to get people to click the link to the non-Word Press website with possibility of infecting the computers of visitors with malware or some other nefarious virus.
Most recently, I received 4 notifications of new followers whose blogs are sites for dating Peruvian and Ukrainian women. The blogs consist of some photos of women and an “About” page with a link. I removed them from followers.
With the indictments filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller the other week, I began putting the pieces together. The dates, the timing, the methods, and the issue that Russian propaganda operatives infiltrated Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, so why not Word Press? The following is not inclusive.
According to Mother Jones, Russian operatives on the internet sow discord by targeting certain communities and linking them up with certain issues.
As email followers, they wanted to become familiar with what bloggers write about. They looked for specific subjects. Based on information about how the Russian operatives acted, Black Lives Matter was a targeted issue. Russian operatives aimed to stir discord and hatred between races, assuming that support to equality means hatred against the government, police forces, and Whites.
Another subject is being kind and loving. While that is an appeal to many, it also puts targets on our backs by people who misconstrue it to mean that we are submissive, weak, easily influenced. I also noticed that some bloggers reporting the email followers had blogs that write about Christianity.
When people suspected of being Russian operatives are confronted because of their non-facts, I’ve seen them attempt to use being kind and loving in a passive-aggressive way to patronize, hoping that their cover isn’t blown.
I found a blog that posted about Russian spam on wordpress. The comments range from 8 years to 8 months ago. That means that their efforts go back to around 2010. Indeed, after becoming suspicious of a person, I found that she opened her blog in 2010. Through the years, her posts have morphed from seeking peace and kindness, to attacking Democratic political candidates, and instructions on how parents can teach their children to mock the children of liberals.
Based on the recent indictments, Russian operatives targeted sources that reside in or focused on swing states. Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were targeted as swing states in the 2016 presidential election. This means that bloggers on Word Press who identified themselves as residing in one of those states, would stand a high chance of seeing someone come along to spread Russian propaganda on their blog, but only after participating to become well-known and liked.
Of course, in order to infiltrate a blog without appearing like a troll or being totally disagreeable, they would need to establish a relationship with the blog administrator and become familiar with other blog participants. That familiarity becomes their buffering point if and when their comments are challenged or disagreed with. Russian operatives just seem to know, out of nowhere, that if the person disagreeing with them has blogged about taking road trips on motorcycles, that they can interject that subject in their patronizing response.
Time magazine describes what the Russia trolls hope to accomplish;
“Today the job is even easier thanks to the Internet, and Russia continues to plant seeds of doubt and mistrust in the American government to add to a general feeling of chaos and unrest in the U.S.”
In working towards this, Russian trolls accuse politicians and political parties of causing division and mistrust. The current person they blame for it is former President Barack Obama. Their accusations turn on themselves because they cannot explain how the first Black president of the United States was elected unless people of all races came together.
The Time article says that propaganda efforts have become more sophisticated. In my opinion, the sophistication is because Russian operatives use emotional manipulation and patronizing. They tell people (YOU) what you feel; what you think. They tell people what political parties think ABOUT THEM and that always pertains to something personal that cannot be changed, such as skin color, retirement, incurable disease.
On another blog, on the subject of politics, a suspected Russian operative commented that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were murdered by the government. It was combined with certain verbiage that in a nutshell inferred that Blacks should not vote because they cannot trust the government. The overall consensus is that this time, it is Russia’s intent to discourage voting.
Russian operatives do not discern that just because an American voter disagrees with politicians, that it doesn’t mean being anti-government. The overall comment conveys that Democrats and Republicans are the same, so why vote?
Most recently with Donald Trump playing footsies with Putin, I read a comment in defense that Trump seeks peace. When I challenged the person on this issue, their response was that they are open minded and they believe in peace and love.
HUH! United States Intelligence Agencies have all investigated and found that Putin is a thief, hacking into emails and our infrastructure. Because I believe in peace, I don’t visit the homes of thieves and I certainly would not invite one into my own house.
On her blog, Gronda has written about Russian trolls. She included very good videos that explain how they operate, with at least one being interviews of whistleblowers. You can read it at this link.
We bloggers need to stay frosty.