On Wednesday morning, several people shared a tweet from a Twitter account named "Boston Antifa" geotagged as originating in Vladivostok, Russia, setting off a debate about who was getting trolled.
Evan O'Connell, whose tweeted screenshot of the Russia geotag was shared and liked thousands of times, says in his Twitter bio that he's a "Paris-based political strategist and PR man" who identifies politically as "progressive."
He told BuzzFeed News he believed that the location tag showed that "Russian troll farms were engaged in obvious trolling."
Jamali tagged the news outlet Russia Today in his tweet and told BuzzFeed News, "Russia's disinformation campaign that was launched during the US, French, and German elections continues."
"I thought it meant the account was a Russian troll who'd accidentally left location services on," Barro told BuzzFeed News. "But apparently it's an American right-wing troll using a manual Russian geotag as a joke? The internet can be stupid."
People immediately started arguing about it.
Some people said the geotag was fake, but others disagreed, arguing that a true troll wouldn't try to seem like a Russian troll slipping up. Still others believed it was related to fake, hyperpartisan news.
So what's really happening here?
For starters, you can geotag a tweet from anywhere, so the Vladivostok tag does not mean the poster was in Russia.
(I replied to O'Connell with a tweet from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I live in San Francisco.)
Secondly, Nantucket Antifa, tagged in the original tweet, indicated that the whole thing was trolling the people who shared the original tweet.
Boston Antifa tagged nine other antifa Twitter accounts in the original photo. All of them are troll accounts.
And multiple self-proclaimed anti-fascist organizations have called out Boston Antifa as a troll.
The anarchist news site It's Going Down wrote an expose of the people behind the account in March that identified them as alt-right trolls from Oregon.
The Twitter account @antifachecker, which vets and verifies legitimate antifa social media accounts and blocks fakes, also keeps Boston Antifa on its list of blocked accounts.
Antifa Checker told BuzzFeed News, "The tweets are full of tells to anyone who's been involved...Their speech patterns and the things they say don't sound like things that antifascists would say. They sound like imitations...Antifa doesn't really care about "gluten free", so that's the first tell."
On its Facebook page, Boston Antifa is quite different from other anti-fascist organizations. The group has shared videos where alleged antifa use butt plugs as microphones, showed their faces in videos (antifa are notoriously secretive, often appearing in public with balaclavas), and called horses ridden by cops "inherently racist" in apparent agreement with a fake antifa trolling Fox News anchor Jesse Watters.
Boston Antifa did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Meanwhile, Twitter has suspended the Boston Antifa account.
The group responded on its Facebook page by sharing a video titled "Twitter is fascist now!" made by an account calling itself "Free Speech Antifa."
Twitter's spam rules prohibit posting "duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account," i.e. tagging lots of other accounts to create false amplification, and posting "false or misleading content."
Twitter declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on individual account suspensions.
O'Connell later solicited feedback on his tweet, but he said he still believes that Boston Antifa could be Russian or American.
"Struck me that the tweet was more likely to be a genuine mistake than trolling," he told BuzzFeed News. "But both theories are plausible."
Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Blake Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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