After the 2016 knife attack on several students at Ohio State University, a twitter user with the handle @thefoundingson began tweeting inflammatory statements calling for President Donald Trump to ban Somali refugees.
“I hope Trump will ban Somali refugees #PrayForOSU” one tweet read.
“We wouldn’t need to #PrayForOSU if we had a strict border!” read another.
The account, which had more than 40,000 followers, supposedly belonged to a man named John Davis. The account’s bio described Davis as a Texan “business owner, proud father, conservative, christian, patriot” who supported gun rights.
John Davis, however, was not a real person. The since-deactivated account was one of many operated by a Russian propaganda operation that sought to divide Americans, according to a U.S. House Intelligence Committee investigation.
The account appeared on a list of 2,752 deactivated accounts that were part of Russian operations, several of which specifically targeted Ohio.
Several attempted to emulate real Ohio news outlets. One such account, @OnlineCleveland, garnered more than 13,000 followers and published content by the real news site Cleveland.com — often with a "spin" on legitimate stories or opinion pieces. The account published everything from sports to local crime.
The account could have been set up that way to seem credible, said Kyle Kondik, communications director for the University of Virginia Center for Politics Communications.
“The only thing I can figure is that whoever was behind these accounts wanted to amplify certain stories over others and appear legitimate while doing so,” Kondik said.
Another account, @todaycleveland, racked up more than 12,000 followers and sometimes aggregated content from WKYC3, an NBC-affiliated TV station in Cleveland.
A similar account in Cincinnati, @TodayCincinnati, retweeted stories by The New York Times. In other states, accounts like @OnlineMemphis and @OaklandOnline similarly emulated news outlets.
Misinformation and propaganda by Russian accounts in Ohio didn't stop with pseudo-news accounts. Russian accounts retweeted attacks on Ohio Gov. John Kasich for his support of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and his Election Day write-in vote for Arizona Sen. John McCain, according to a full list of tweets from the accounts released by NBC. The accounts also pushed a fake news story that claimed thousands of write-in votes for Hillary Clinton were found in a Franklin County warehouse, and retweeted claims that the Ohio election would be rigged one way or the other.
One account, @TEN_GOP, tweeted a photo of the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2016 victory parade, claiming it was a Trump rally in Phoenix. (Many non-Russian users also tweeted the fake photo, including Breitbart News.)
A couple of Dispatch items were tweeted, including one picked up by the Drudge Report saying "Tim Kaine 'ready to become the president' if that ever became necessary, ex-Ohio Gov Ted Strickland says in intro at Dayton Stivers High." That Sept. 12, 2016, tweet came on the heels of concerns about Hillary Clinton's health after she partially collapsed after a 9/11 event.
While the Russian accounts primarily were aimed at boosting Trump or condemning Clinton, they attempted to divide both sides. Some of the accounts even supported Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The phrase “FeelTheBern” appears 247 times in the list. The phrase “#BlackLivesMatter” appears 1,441 times.
On Friday, Robert Mueller, the U.S. special counsel, brought an election-interference indictment against 13 Russians, including a businessman close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The indictment alleges the Russians created fraudulent social media accounts and paid for political advertisements to disrupt American politics.
More recently, Russian accounts have been using the Parkland school shooting, in which 17 students and instructors were killed, to deepen the divide over guns in the U.S., according to a previous Dispatch report.
Kondik said although the Russian action was meant to be deceptive, they might not have been effective in misleading or dividing Ohioans.
"Let’s also remember something else: Just because these activities were deceptive doesn’t necessarily mean they were shrewd or effective," Kondik said.
Bennett Leckrone is a staff writer for the Columbus Dispatch.