Russian trolls fueled fears of the Ku Klux Klan as racially charged protests roiled the University of Missouri campus.
A Twitter user called @Fanfan1911 issued the KKK warning on Nov. 11, 2015, after the #PrayforMizzou hashtag started trending over student protests — and the Kansas City Star reported that the social media account was apparently a Russian troll trying to foment unrest.
The @Fanfan1911 used the name “Jermaine” to warn, “The cops are marching with the KKK! They beat up my little brother! Watch out!” — and the post included a photo of a black child with a bruised face.
However, the report was false, and the photo was a child beaten a year earlier by police in Ohio.
The tweet was widely and quickly shared, and at least 70 “bot” accounts criticized the media for failing to report campus racism.
The hoax was part of a broader strategy by Russia to disrupt Western democracies, according to a U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jarred Prier writing about information warfare in Strategic Studies Quarterly.
Missouri Students Association president Payton Head was fooled by the tweet and warned students to avoid public spaces, although he later apologized after police were unable to verify the reports.
Many conservatives online called for Head’s impeachment as student president and targeted his family members for harassment.
Prier said the @Fanfan1911 account later changed its display name from Jermaine to “FanFan,” and the profile photo of a black man was changed to the image of a German iron cross.
“The next few months, FanFan’s tweets were all in German and consisted of spreading rumors about Syrian refugees,” Prier wrote.
The same account started tweeting in English by spring 2016 and promoted right-wing U.S. news sites such as Breitbart, and FanFan eventually became “Deplorable Lucy” and backed Donald Trump.