The Cable

State Department gets Twitter to shut down fake @StateDeptRussia account

The Russian blogosphere erupted this week with criticism of an apparent State Department effort to court Russian pro-democracy bloggers through the Twitter feed @StateDeptRussia. But it turns out the account was a fake, and the State Department convinced Twitter to shut it down. "We must know the enemy in person and track his steps. Beware ...

The Russian blogosphere erupted this week with criticism of an apparent State Department effort to court Russian pro-democracy bloggers through the Twitter feed @StateDeptRussia. But it turns out the account was a fake, and the State Department convinced Twitter to shut it down.

"We must know the enemy in person and track his steps. Beware to the friends and the readers of this blog! Read, listen, watch @StateDeptRussia," wrote one Russian blogger about the Twitter feed, which had an official State Department logo as its avatar but did not have the blue check mark that certifies a Twitter feed is authentic.

The cached version of the now defunct feed can be found here.  Written in Russian, it seemed similar to other State Department feeds around the world, mixing general U.S. policy statements with tweets offering grants to Russian bloggers who wanted to work with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

"Internet activists are changing the world, we are ready to cooperate with the young Russian bloggers," read a tweet from the account on March 19.

 "We invite bloggers to cooperate in promoting democracy in Russia, the generous grants are waiting for you," read another March 25 tweet.

Alec Ross, the State Department’s senior advisor for innovation, told The Cable that once the State Department became aware of the account, they asked Twitter to shut it down.

"Through our normal course of business following social media, the Department determined that it was a fake account masquerading as authentic so we alerted Twitter," he said.

Fake accounts are okay if they’re advertised as such (like the very funny @MayorEmanuel) but feeds that are designed to fool the public violates Twitter’s terms of service.

Ross (@alecjross) said part of the excitement and the risk of pushing government communications into cyberspace was the recognition that there were opportunities for others to abuse these tools.

"As the Department grows increasingly strong in social media spaces, we expect counter-measures from people who don’t share our interests," he said.

Ross, who has over 335,000 followers, is now the State Department’s top tweeter, following the departure of his cohort Jared Cohen (@jaredcohen), who is now the head of a new "think-do" tanks called Google Ideas.

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