In Bed with Embeds: How a Network Tied to IRA Operations Created Fake “Man on the Street” Content Embedded in News Articles

On December 2, 2021 Twitter announced that they had suspended a network of 50 accounts linked to previously removed activity from the Internet Research Agency. The network focused on Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, and included a mix of accounts representing real people and fake accounts (at least one with an AI-generated profile photo). Twitter assesses that the operation originated in North Africa.1 The network was most notable for the high portion of accounts that had their tweets embedded in news articles from the Yevgeny Prigozhin-linked publication RIA FAN (“Federal News Agency”), in some cases the Russian state media outlet Sputnik, and a wider ecosystem of websites around the world. Social media embedding is a practice of incorporating public commentary into news articles that is widely leveraged by many credible publications worldwide, and leveraged to provide on-the-ground or “man-on-the-street” perspectives on pivotal issues. However, in the case of RIA FAN, what was embedded was commentary by way of tweets linked to inauthentic accounts from influence networks.