Russia-backed “WalkAway” campaign takes jarring new turn on Twitter

Over the past week, Twitter has seen the rise of the #WalkAway hashtag, which supposedly belongs to a group of individuals who are leaving the Democratic Party due to its unfair treatment of Donald Trump. If that concept sounds like a laugh-out-loud farce to you, don’t worry, it is one. It took Dave Weigel of the Washington Post all of a few minutes to figure out that the hashtag was being propped up by Russian bots and fake accounts. Now things have taken a rather jarring turn, and one that’s hit close to home.

Over the weekend, the #WalkAway effort evolved beyond merely relying on random anonymous fake accounts, and began relying on fake accounts that were anything but random or anonymous. Several phony Twitter accounts were created for the express purpose of impersonating various liberal political pundits, including me. Some people fell for the fake words being put in my mouth, briefly causing a minor uproar.

Someone created a Twitter account using my face as its profile picture, and my name but with the lower case “L” swapped out for a capital “i” instead. This fake account, posing as me, then declared that I was leaving the Democratic Party and that I was throwing my support behind Donald Trump. This impostor account then began trolling a number of anti-Trump luminaries, including Stoneman Douglas school shooting survivor David Hogg, in my name. Finally, Twitter deleted the fake account. Here’s what stands out: every pro-Trump tweet posted by the fake Palmer Report account included the #WalkAway hashtag.

Various news outlets have documented the #WalkAway campaign’s roots in Russian propaganda. Respected political reporter Caroline Orr has published an impressive expose about it on Arc Digital. It’s also been covered on Wonkette. There is also the open question of why Donald Trump Jr was so quick to fully commit himself to the #WalkAway hashtag.

Although Twitter has dutifully deleted the fake Palmer Report account, some of the other accounts impersonating other liberal pundits are still active. We have no way of knowing if the creator of these accounts is a Russian hacker, or merely some random doofus piggybacking on the hashtag in pursuit of a moment of fame. But it’s worth watching to see where, if anywhere, this phony Russia-backed hashtag goes next.

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