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Considered opinionRussia recruited YouTubers to bash “Racist B*tch” Hillary Clinton over rap beats

By Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, and Spencer Ackerman

Published 10 October 2017

According to the YouTube page for “Williams and Kalvin,” the Clintons are “serial killers who are going to rape the whole nation.” Donald Trump can’t be racist because he’s a “businessman.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign was “fund[ed] by the Muslim.” Williams and Kalvin’s content was pulled from Facebook in August after it was identified as a Russian government-backed propaganda account. According to Clint Watts, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, using third party contractors from both inside Russia and countries with cheap labor is a method used by the Kremlin to “muddy the waters on attribution” of propaganda. “Often, (the Kremlin) will contract out entities to do this so they can say, ‘You can’t prove that it’s us,’” Watts told the Daily Beast. “It’s pretty routine for them to try to gain resources through third parties and contract cutouts.”

According to the YouTube page for “Williams and Kalvin,” the Clintons are “serial killers who are going to rape the whole nation.” Donald Trump can’t be racist because he’s a “businessman.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign was “fund[ed] by the Muslim.”

Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, and Spencer Ackerman write in the Daily Beast that these are a sample of the videos put together by two black video bloggers calling themselves Williams and Kalvin Johnson, whose social media pages investigators say are part of the broad Russian campaign to influence American politics. Across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, they purported to offer “a word of truth” to African-American audiences.

“We, the black people, we stand in one unity. We stand in one to say that Hillary Clinton is not our candidate,” one of the men says in a November videothat warned Clinton “is going to stand for the Muslim. We don’t stand for her.”

Collins, Resnick, and Ackerman continue:

Williams and Kalvin’s content was pulled from Facebook in August after it was identified as a Russian government-backed propaganda account, the Daily Beast has confirmed with multiple sources familiar with the account and the reasons for its removal. Williams and Kalvin’s account was also suspended from Twitter in August. But the YouTube page for Williams and Kalvin remains live at press time.

It’s reminiscent of the Russian attempts to impersonate a California-based Muslim group and piggyback off of the Black Lives Matter protests to spread the Kremlin’s message. But this time, the Kremlin operation used real people, not just memes and hijacked hashtags.

The discovery of living, breathing, real-life avatars for Kremlin talking points deepens and complicates the emerging picture of how Russian propaganda reached what Facebook alone estimated last week were 10 million users in the United States—a number considered by many outside experts to be a lowball estimate.

….

Videos published by Williams and Kalvin in late 2016, especially in October, often engaged in fever swamp theories about Hillary Clinton and in some cases promoting Donald Trump directly.

One specific video published in October, prior to the presidential election, refers to Hillary Clinton as an “old racist bitch.”

“She’s a fucking racist,” the host says over a subdued rap beat. “And this woman is a witch,” he says as a picture portrays Clinton in Wizard of Oz attire. He goes on to praise Julian Assange for releasing hacked emails. “This woman, she’s sick on her head.”

Other videos are more explicit about urging people to vote for Trump.

“This is time for change. This is why I say that let our vote go for Trump. Because this man is a businessman. He’s not a politician. We can have deal with him,” Williams says in a video published in August of 2016. “Because I don’t see him as a racist. Because any businessman cannot be a racist because when you are a racist, then your business is going down.” He then makes a black-power fist as he endorses Trump.

Williams and Kalvin’s content on one social network did not stay penned in there. While the videos only racked up hundreds of views on YouTube at press time, some Williams and Kalvin videos on Facebook reached thousands of people. Before the account was shuttered, Williams and Kalvin’s Facebook page had 48,000 fans.

….

According to Clint Watts, a former FBI counterterrorism agent who testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian cyberattacks, using third party contractors from both inside Russia and countries with cheap labor is a method used by the Kremlin to “muddy the waters on attribution” of propaganda.

“Often, (the Kremlin) will contract out entities to do this so they can say, ‘You can’t prove that it’s us,’” Watts told the Daily Beast. “It’s pretty routine for them to try to gain resources through third parties and contract cutouts.”

….

Watts called the low quality videos a “weakness in their system.”

“In a normal influence campaign, you do these things called ‘audience analysis’ and ‘product testing’ to see what works before you put it out there. They didn’t. They try everything, then go with what works,” said Watts. “They skipped the product testing phase. They didn’t do it. And they also don’t care.”

Watts said Russia’s forays into YouTube influence is “probably new for them in the U.S. space” after years of social media campaigns across Eastern Europe.

“They thought they were going to do something really cool and amazing—and I’m sure they thought it came out amazing,” he said. “But it didn’t take off, and they showed their hand.”

Read the full article: Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, and Spencer Ackerman, “Russia Recruited YouTubers to Bash ‘Racist B*tch’ Hillary Clinton Over Rap Beats,” Daily Beast (8 October 2017)