Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | 5 days ago

Russian Troll Factory Behind Islamophobic Westminster Attack Tweets

It Turns Out A Russian Troll Factory Was Behind Islamophobic Westminster Attack Tweets

The Debrief: The tweet was revolting and misleading whoever sent it, but the plot certainly thickens if it was all part of a grander plan...

If you showed us the headline of the article just two years ago, we would have been flabbergasted. But today, we’re still quite flabberghasted, as it turns out an Islamophobic - and pretty misogynistic - tweet about a woman’s perceived response to the Westminster terror attack, which went viral, wasn’t sent by a Texan, as his profile attested, but a Russian troll.

WATCH NOW: The Debrief Talks To Nick Clegg About Brexit 

Let’s rewind. Following the Westminster Terror attack on 22nd March this year, six people were dead or dying and another 49 were injured. A lot of photographers were there to bear witness, as is normal for this sort of very un-normal and thankfully rare atrocity.

One photographer was Jamie Lorriman. He uploaded all his images to a media agency, as is customary for a photographer on the scene to do so that the press can find one to attach to the story their reporters are working on.

However, one particular image was taken from the agency by a tweeter with the handle @SouthLoneStar. This picture was of a Muslim woman on the phone near to some injured people, and the caption read ‘Muslim woman pays no mind to the terror attack, casually walks by a dying man while checking phone#PrayForLondon #Westminster #BanIslam’. The tweet was divisive and misleading.

In truth, the woman anonymously released a statement via Tell MAMA, an anti-Islamophobia charity. In it, she pointed out that she'd spoken to other witnesses to get a gauge on what was going on anyhow she could help. She then called her family to tell them she was alright - this is when the photo was taken - and helped a woman to Waterloo Station.

‘My thoughts at that moment were one of sadness, fear and concern….I am shocked and totally dismayed at how a picture of me is being circulated on social media…my thoughts go out to all the victims and their families’, her statement read. 

She also thanked Lorriman for defending her to the press by saying: ‘Looking back at the pictures now she looks visibly distraught in both pictures in my opinion’

The tweet is revolting and misguided, and it would have been revolting and misleading whoever had sent it. But it transpires that @SouthLoneStar, an account with the bio ‘proud TEXAN and AMERICAN patriot’, the avatar of a person in a Stetson’, a fondness for tweeting about Brexit and a following of 16,800, is actually a Russian troll employed by the Kremlin. Have a lot of racist - and other divisive - tweets been manufactured by Kremlin-backed trolls? If so, what's the overall goal, and has it achieved it? And how many of us have been duped by Russian propagandists? How many is enough to say that it's threatened our democracy?

The evidence of the fakery was found by Wired, which obtained a cache of files which Twitter provided to US Congress as part of the evidence given as part of its investigations into Russian influence on US politics. 

We’ve all heard rumblings of how fake news influenced the outcome of the US election in 2016, and how Russia was allegedly leaking bad material about Hillary Clinton. But could Russia's forces have influenced Brexit, something President Trump credited as laying the groundwork for the success of his populist ascendancy? That's what a parliamentary enquiry will be asking.

Yin Yin Lu, of the Oxford Institute, told The Times that of the 2,752 Twitter accounts found to be linked to the Internet Research Agency, a St Petersburg-based, Russian state-backed ‘troll factory’, at least 54 had tweeted about Brexit.

It’s no wonder Theresa May has accused Russia of interfering in foreign politics. At the Lord Mayor’s banquet of all places, she gave a speech highlighting  Russia's new propaganda: ‘[Russia] It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions’

This comes as foreign secretary Boris Johnson is due to travel to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin, and President Trump has declared he believes Putin when he says that Russians didn’t influence the US election…

More will certainly emerge, and we'll keep you updated, comrades…

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Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

Tags: Russia, Politics