Russia’s Internet Research Agency Turned to Tumblr, Too

84 accounts were deleted last fall, and law enforcement was notified

Tumblr discovered 84 accounts linked to Russia's IRA last fall mars58/iStock
Headshot of David Cohen

Despite Tumblr having faded into the background in the social media landscape, the Internet Research Agency—the Russian entity that sought to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election via social media—saw enough use in the microblogging platform to establish at least 84 accounts that were used in a “disinformation campaign.”

Tumblr revealed in a blog post that it discovered 84 accounts linked to the IRA last fall, which were being used to influence the election, adding, “After uncovering the activity, we notified law enforcement, terminated the accounts and deleted their original posts. Behind the scenes, we worked with the Department of Justice, and the information we provided helped indict 13 people who worked for the IRA.”

The IRA-linked accounts posted only organic content, and did not run any ads, according to Tumblr, which added, “Their goal is to sow division and discontent in the countries they target. What makes them so difficult to spot is that they’re not spambots. They’re real people who get trained and paid to spread propaganda.”

Tumblr outlined the steps it is taking to notify users who may have seen content from one of these accounts:

  • Emailing any users who liked, reblogged, replied to or followed any of the IRA-linked accounts.
  • Maintaining a public record of usernames linked to the IRA and other state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
  • Not automatically deleting reblog chains containing content from these accounts, explaining, “We’re letting you decide because the reblog chains contain posts created by real Tumblr users, often challenging or debunking the false and incendiary claims in the IRA-linked original post. Removing those authentic posts without your consent would encroach on your free speech—and there have been enough disruptions to our conversations as it is.”

Tumblr also detailed how it will handle future instances of this type of activity:

  • Terminate involved accounts and remove all of their original posts.
  • Notify users who have liked, reblogged, replied to or followed those accounts.
  • Add those accounts to the aforementioned public record of usernames. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.