Multiple right-wing media outlets have called out left-leaning groups for letting social media accounts run by Russian operatives dupe them into sharing their content. Yet these same conservative outlets have neglected to mention that they too cited Russian accounts.
Since September, multiple outlets have reported about specific social media accounts run by the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-connected organization, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign and beyond by pretending to be American. Fake news websites and other outlets widely cited these fake accounts. In early November, Congress released Twitter handles of some of these Russian accounts and the propaganda material some of the Russian accounts pushed.
In response to these reports, The Daily Caller wrote that feminist groups such as the Women’s March were “fooled” and “promoted Russian propaganda,” noting that the groups had previously shared some content from Russian accounts on Instagram and Facebook. In another piece, the outlet also wrote that Russia was “using ‘The Resistance,’” a term generally used to describe opposition to President Donald Trump (that the Daily Caller claimed Russia “duped”), “to stoke division” by organizing anti-Trump rallies.
The Daily Caller did not note in any of these pieces that it regularly cited Russian accounts itself. The outlet repeatedly cited the fake account @TEN_GOP, which Twitter permanently suspended after the account spent nearly two years posing as the Tennessee Republican Party. Daily Caller reporters cited @TEN_GOP in articles praising Miss USA, showing Barron Trump taking a photo of Marine One, mocking Hillary Clinton, highlighting a confrontation between demonstrators and a California Democratic Party official, criticizing calls for gun safety protections, and hyping a fight between pro- and anti-Trump groups. Other Russian accounts, such as @Jenn_Abrams and @todayinsyria, were also cited in Daily Caller articles bashing Clinton, promoting Trump fans, and stoking fears about ISIS.
The outlet has also since deleted a citation from Russian account @Pamela_Moore13 from one of its articles, leaving an editor’s note that says it removed the citation from the piece because it quoted “an account suspended by Twitter,” not disclosing that it was a Russian account.
Another right-wing outlet, The Daily Wire, highlighted The Daily Caller’s article that chided the Women’s March in order to mock feminists more broadly for falling for the Russian propaganda “hook, line, and sinker.” The piece did not disclose that The Daily Wire had also cited @TEN_GOP multiple times. Additionally, conservative FrontPage Magazine, which cited The Daily Caller to criticize “the left” for falling for the fake accounts due to “identity politics,” did not disclose in the piece that it too had previously cited @TEN_GOP.
Russian propagandists on social media were successful at integrating into American political debates by routinely tricking conservative and mainstream outlets alike. Outlets such as ABC News, BuzzFeed, and The Washington Post have shown accountability by acknowledging they cited these fake accounts; it’s time for these right-wing outlets to do the same.