Paid Russian trolls have mostly found success on Reddit when they posted pictures of cute animals, but have also had luck with jokes at minorities’ expense, anti–Hillary Clinton memes, and frustration with income inequality in the US.
Reddit announced Tuesday the names of 944 accounts it said were created by the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg “troll factory” owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The IRA traffics in creating realistic social media profiles to spread politically divisive content. Special counsel Robert Mueller has charged 13 Russians affiliated with the company, including Prigozhin, for improperly interfering in the 2016 US election.
Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook previously have named and deleted IRA accounts, but this is the first time they’ve been officially identified on Reddit. A source familiar with the matter confirmed that the Senate Intelligence Committee had received the list earlier in the day.
Consistent with the IRA’s use of other social media platforms, most of its Reddit accounts never received substantial attention. By far, their two favorite subreddits to post in were /r/funny, an immensely popular forum for generic humor, and /r/uncen, a since-deleted and little-known subreddit created by shomyo, an IRA account.
Reddit offers users a largely meaningless award called karma — every time another user upvotes a post, that initial user gets another karma point — and 71 of Reddit’s list of troll factory accounts had a score of more than 1,000.
A BuzzFeed News analysis of the 25 most popular accounts found that the most viral IRA posts were of cute animals, mostly dogs or cats. But those same accounts also found luck posting jokes making fun of African Americans, Muslims, the police, Hillary Clinton, gun control, feminists, and the gap in the US between the rich and the poor.
The single most popular account, rubinjer, posted frequently in the_donald, Reddit’s hub for support of Donald Trump. Its top-rated posts were jokes about African Americans and police, Clinton, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who challenged Trump in the primary. It also, according to an investigation by NBC News, posted a homemade fake sex tape of Clinton.
Other popular accounts were hardly ideologically consistent. One, BeazerneMem, posted both pro- and anti-gun memes. The top posts from another, clackie, include a duckling on a golden retriever's head, a squirrel on a golden retriever’s head, and an RT story about Putin’s denying that Russian airstrikes had killed civilians in Syria.
While a number of reports have covered IRA activity around the time of the 2016 election, the organization’s current activity has received less attention. Most of the accounts Reddit named have been inactive for months or more than a year, but at least one was posting conspiracy theories as recently as Monday.