How Did I End Up Rubbing Elbows With Russian Trolls on Tumblr?

Russian troll Tumblr account 1-800-gloup.

This morning, I received an email from Tumblr, the social network that I had pegged as the least likely to betray me. It was titled “Update on Russian-linked activity on Tumblr.” I rolled my eyes. While Russia panic has been blown out of proportion around Twitter and Facebook — it’s difficult to make the case that the activity linked to the Kremlin-backed troll farm Internet Research Agency gave Trump his margin of victory — it seemed especially absurd to hear about it from Tumblr. That’s because Tumblr is a social network whose demographics skew young — often too young to vote — and which does not seem to have become the hotbed of divisive political discussion that Facebook and Twitter have. Politicians and pundits aren’t really hanging out on Tumblr; teenage furries and fan-fiction writers are.

Tumblr users tend to relish Byzantine internal conflict, often based on
“calling out” users for politically problematic posts. So when I get an email from Tumblr claiming that Russians had used the platform to sow discord, it seems absurd. If you want to sow discord between, say, witches and SJWs — over whether it’s okay to steal human bones, for example — Tumblr is your place. If you want to sow discord between political activists, you’re better off on YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook. Maybe Tumblr wanted to humblebrag about being important enough to become a place for Russian meddling.

Anyway, that’s what I assumed upon receiving the email — what I found inside was much weirder.

“As part of our commitment to transparency,” the email began, “we want you to know that we uncovered and terminated 84 accounts linked to Internet Research Agency or IRA (a group closely tied to the the Russian government) posing as members of the Tumblr community.”

Even more distressing for me: “[W]e discovered that you either followed one of these accounts linked to the IRA, or liked or reblogged one of their posts.” Somehow, I had managed to not interact with the IRA on Facebook, or Twitter — but I come into contact with ten accounts on Tumblr.

These are the accounts, along with their past aliases.

• 1-800-gloup

• bellaxiao previously known as: blogmadworldlove

• bellygangstaboo

• blackness-by-your-side previously known as: black-galaxy-magic, fullyfurrymiracle, u4guy, ufo-pilot-and-his-sexy-spouse

• cartnsncreal previously known as: feelmydragonballs

• gogomrbrown previously known as: go-mrbrown, infectedv0ice, todd-la-death

• lagonegirl

• mooseblogtimes

• morningwoodz previously known as: 5cubes, bangbangempire, empireofweird, gifemprireohh, innerpicsempire, picsempire

• sumchckn previously known as: blondeinpolitics, blvckcommunity, classylgbthomie, hwuudoin, politixblondie

Here is some useful context about my Tumblr activity: All I do on Tumblr is like posts. I follow fewer than 200 people and none of the accounts in that list ring a bell. I doubt I followed any of them. Also, I have not created or shared anything on Tumblr in the last five years. Just as important to note is the fact that I use Tumblr to look at meme bullshit and ironic humor, not hard-hitting commentary on political and social issues.

What most likely happened is that at some point scrolling through my endless timeline, I liked a funny image that included these blogs in the “reblog chain.” Content had been posted by someone, the Russians reblogged it, and then someone I follow reblogged that. An archived version of 1-800-gloup, for instance, shows that the IRA was involved in reblogging other accounts dedicated to civil rights (and humor posts and model pics), rather than trying to create viral success from scratch.

Anyway, here’s a post from Russian chaos agent bellygangstaboo, who commented regarding this water-slide video, “[I]t is my life goal to be able to do this.” Despite bellygangstaboo’s untimely demise, the post lives on, having been reblogged by user setheverman.

How I Ended Up Interacting With Russian Trolls on Tumblr