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Did someone really steal dead Russians' online accounts in a mass propaganda campaign for Putin? (Spoiler: not really)

Meduza

What’s been reported?

“Are the dead campaigning for Putin? Vkontakte users have been noticing posts with the hashtag #ПутинКрут [#CoolPutin] from the accounts of dead people,” claimed the headline of a report that appeared on Znak.com on December 17. Since Sunday, more than 40 other Russian media outlets have covered the story.

What’s the deal with these Vkontakte posts?

Znak’s report concerns a series of identical posts in various regional communities on Vkontakte. The posts are devoted to Vladimir Putin’s recent annual press conference, they all use the hashtag #ПутинКрут and bear the logo of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard), and they contain some quote from Putin. The posts appeared during and after Putin’s press conference on December 14.

Internet users started drawing attention to the strange origin of this pro-Putin meme, but there are in fact very few of these posts. Znak.com offered just a single example, and websites like TJournal and Govorit Moskva found only another two.

What’s up with these accounts?

Spokespeople for Vkontakte say the suspicious accounts sharing these posts were either hacked or stolen. Molodaya Gvardiya denies any involvement in hacking accounts or using stolen accounts to promote Vladimir Putin. “Technically, anyone can take an image in the public domain, slap our logo on it, and upload it to a Vkontakte community,” said the movement’s spokesperson, Anna Rogacheva.

Only two of the accounts used to spread these images actually belong to deceased persons: Alexandra Lysaka and Lyudmila Brykova. Immediately after Znak’s report, both of these accounts were suspended and soon restored to their previous states.

Conclusion

Someone did use stolen accounts to disseminate political images, but claims that the accounts of dead people were used in a mass propaganda campaign are inaccurate.

Text by Mikhail Zelenskiy, translation by Kevin Rothrock