Russian internet trolls ran an incredibly popular Twitter account that claimed to belong to the Tennessee Republican Party that managed to fool a number of celebrities, politicians, Trump campaign staffers and supporters. The state's real Republican Party alerted Twitter multiple times that the account, known as @TEN_GOP, was fake.
The social media company, however, took nearly a year to take down the account. Created in November 2015, the account managed to garner about 136,000 followers before it was "permanently suspended" in late August this year.
Candice Dawkins, the real Tennessee GOP's communications director, told BuzzFeed that she notified Twitter about the fake account at least three times — once in September 2016 as well as in March and mid-August this year.
"It was in no way affiliated with our office," Dawkins told BuzzFeed News. "It was very misleading."
Besides pushing fake reports, the popular account posted a slew of divisive and inflammatory tweets during this time including one in December 2016 that claimed that unarmed black men killed by police officers deserved to die, Buzzfeed reported.
The account was one of many created by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency, a "troll farm" that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and assigned about 100 people to influence political opinion and attitudes in the US. The origins of the fake account were first reported by Russian news outlet RBC as part of its investigation into the Internet Research Agency's efforts to influence US politics.
A number of prominent figures including officials, Trump campaign staffers and celebrities engaged with the fake account before it was shut down.
Just two days before Election Day, Trump campaign manager and current senior adviser Kellyanne Conway tweeted a post by @Ten_GOP regarding Hillary Clinton, The Daily Beast reported.
"Mother of jailed sailor: 'Hold Hillary to same standards as my son on Classified info' #hillarysemail #WeinerGate" the tweet reportedly read.
"Thousands of deplorables chanting to the media: "Tell The Truth!" RT if you are also done w/ biased Media!" another tweet that was retweeted by Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign's digital director, read.
Trump's son Donald Trump Jr also followed the fake account and retweeted it multiple times. Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son Michael Flynn Jr also retweeted the account before it was removed.
Numerous celebrities also fooled by the fake Twitter account included Nicki Minaj, James Woods along with media personalities Anne Coulter and Chris Hayes, The Washington Post reported.
The news comes as tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google face intense scrutiny over the role their platforms inadvertently played in Russia's misinformation campaign to sow discord and influence the 2016 election.
Facebook admitted it sold $100,000 (£75,648) worth of politically divisive ads to inauthentic accounts linked to Russia. It handed over 3,000 Russian-linked ads, which were seen by 10 million people, to congressional intelligence committees. Twitter said it found 201 Russian accounts on its own site that were connected to the Facebook ads. Google said it found that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on YouTube, Gmail and Google search.
Congress plans to grill the three companies during a hearing on 1 November regarding how these Russian-purchased ads on their sites may have influenced the election.