Miami Herald and Its Parent Company Accidentally Shared Russian Propaganda Tweet

Miami Herald and Its Parent Company Accidentally Shared Russian Propaganda Tweet
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Mainstream news organizations share propaganda all the time: The U.S. military lies to reporters, local police unions lie constantly, and much of it passes into the public consciousness unabated. But social media has shifted the national propaganda war into a new gear. It's now clear that the Russian government was running a massive social media propaganda campaign to help Donald Trump get elected. And according to a report commissioned by the website Recode, the Miami Herald and its parent company took the bait and shared a Russian propagandist's thoughts in at least one story.

Twitter told Congress this week it deactivated 2,752 accounts linked to the Russian government — Recode and Meltwater, a media-research firm, studied the list and found that tweets from the now-banned accounts made it onto the websites of the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Vox, and the Herald, among many other news outlets. (Hilariously, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones also fell for Russian propaganda.)

The Herald's article was penned by a writer for the wire service from the paper's parent company, McClatchy. The story was pretty innocuous — it explained that Daily Show host Trevor Noah and howling conservative child Tomi Lahren were trapped in a nonsensical fight about Black Lives Matter. The writer noted that people online were having mixed reactions about the fight — but one of those quoted, @BlackToLive, wasn't a real person.

It's unclear what the account said — McClatchy has already deleted the troll from its article and added a note to the top of its news story.

"This story has been updated to remove a tweet from an account now known to be a Russian troll," the Herald's December 1 story now reads.

Reactions to the "Russia-gate" story fall along purely ideological lines: Conservatives think it's a joke, centrist liberals tend to believe it's a sign our democracy was stolen, and those on the left tend to be more indifferent and wonder exactly how much damage a bunch of Facebook and Twitter trolls really could have done to the election. (Some also point to the fact that the United States has interfered in foreign elections for decades, including admittedly helping Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, win the Russian presidency in the 1990s. But two wrongs don't make a right.)

It's pretty clear now that the Russians were executing a disinformation campaign, and signs point to Trump's campaign being painfully, obviously aware of it.

The news that Russian bots wound up in legitimate news stories should still trouble media outlets, because reporters tend to use social media reactions (on Twitter especially) to gauge whether a story is important or how the public feels about certain topics. As media critics have pointed out for years, that process was always self-selective and mostly nonsense, but Russia's troll farm demonstrates how easily manipulated social media "opinion" can really be.

Twitter last week also noted that one account dedicated to sharing Miami news on Twitter, known as @TodayMiami, stemmed from a Russian troll farm too. That account did little but retweet stories by New Times, the Herald, and Miami's various TV-news outlets. Thanks for the free press, Volodya Putin?
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.