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Self-described ‘Russian trolls’ plan Reddit AMA

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Two weeks ago, ThinkProgress became the first outlet to link the “Black Matters US” site to activity that pointed toward Russian operatives. While further stories from outlets like CNN and ABC illustrated how the site coordinated with American activists to fund and organize on-the-ground protests across the US, no representatives from “Black Matters US” ever responded to questions.

That, however, changed Tuesday afternoon.

In a series of emails to reporters from ThinkProgress, Business Insider, BuzzFeed, and The New Yorker, someone using the “Black Matters US” administrator email address wrote that they were putting together an upcoming Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA). Going by the name “Joshua Smith,” the emails all appeared nearly identical. As they wrote to ThinkProgress:

Dear Casey,

We have been following your work concerning Internet Research Agency with great interest. We will be glad to answer your questions on AMA Reddit Session soon. You can ask your questions via the special form on blackmattersus.com. These questions will have top priority during the AMA Reddit session.

We will send you more information later.

Yours sincerely,
Russian Trolls

At some point earlier this week, the front page of the “Black Matters US” site’s landing page transformed. Where the homepage of a “nonprofit news outlet” once existed, an invitation to participate in an “AMA Reddit session with Russian trolls” now stood. “MR. Zuckerberg [sic] is so scared of Russian trolls that he won’t let you share our link,” the page read. “Check it out and tell your friends.”

The rest of the site – which ThinkProgress also linked to a Florida-based LLC, run by a trio of individuals living in Staten Island, earlier this week – appears to be unchanged.

A representative from Reddit told ThinkProgress that they’ve found no evidence of an upcoming AMA. “We haven’t seen any evidence of them actually coordinating with any of the communities,” the spokesperson said. “They’re saying they’re doing it, but they’re collecting questions on their website, which is also sort of strange, because that’s not how you do an AMA.”

A series of tweets from BuzzFeed’s Ryan Brooks, who was also contacted by the “Russian trolls,” showed that the “Black Matters US” landing page had also featured both a countdown, which appeared to show the AMA scheduled for Oct. 30, and a video. The video, which has since been removed, appeared to show the same individual featured in many of the Russian videos unearthed by The Daily Beast, which linked to a fake account run out of Russia called “Williams and Kalvin.” Says the man in the “Black Matters US” video, “I am a black blogger and a Russian troll.”

The person or persons behind the email account told ThinkProgress that a “new better video is coming soon,” and that more details will be forthcoming. Added the self-described Russian troll, “Show some patience.”

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