Investigation into Russian involvement in the last presidential election just keeps getting intense, and it appears that Russian interest in American doesn’t end with just ads and bots. According to The Wall Street Journal, the country’s involvement extended to gathering personal information on Americans it seems. The Internet Research Agency, backed by the Russian government, apparently used fake social media accounts to collect personal information on Americans such as names, email addresses and other details. Interestingly, this activity continued even after the 2016 election.
Through social media accounts such as @Black4Black and @BlackMattersUS, Russian influencers reached out to small business owners, requesting personal information in order to write profiles and promotional content. In addition, they promised to add these companies to a business directly as part of their activist outreach, but nothing every came of it.
Talking about another scenario, a supposed activist organization called BlackFist paid a man named Maurice Bright via PayPal to reach self-defense lessons in his community. In exchange, the group requested personal information of attendees and videos of the classes. “They were really adamant about getting names,” Mr. Bright told The Wall Street Journal, especially after he refused to send any contact information. He then chose to discontinue the partnership after the group wanted him to start teaching offensive tactics, rather than defensive.
At this time, it’s not exactly clear why Russian operatives want personal information, but we believe that it could be tied to either identity theft or part of a larger effort to influence politics in the US. To put it into perspective, there were two million American identities stolen for fake net neutrality comments. It’s possible that this type of personal data could be used to influence similar efforts in the future in US politics.