After the FBI raid, Dem. The congressman feels love — From a network of trolls

On January 21, FBI agents raided the home and campaign office of Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX). And it wasn’t long before the love flooded Twitter, a few days later, Cuellar was cramming his replies with words of encouragement.

“Here we will support until the end.”

“Congratulations on many more achievements.”

“We’re getting better and better.”

“For the better of the country!!”

“Hopefully Henry can stay in Congress.”

But these wise men are not constituents, supporters or adoring fans. They are a coordinated network of fake troll accounts and they are on a mission.

Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, has never seen much involvement before the raids, with his tweets normally only draw half a dozen or so answers. But after the FBI knocked on the door, Cuellar’s replies were filled with criticism calling for him to resign, reminding him of the investigation and mocking the nine-term congressman for thinking he should go to jail. Within a week, those answers were matched with quests from ostensibly advocates who had rushed in to battle the haters.

Experts say accounts active with Cuellar bear the hallmarks of a disinformation network that aims to amplify or distort online stories. Multiple accounts were created in January or February of this year — shortly after the FBI raid — which could indicate they were controlled by the same actor, while another group was created similarly in October. 7 or August 2021. Cuellar content makes up the majority of their interactions, and they religiously comment on his posts.

Cuellar’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“We’ve identified at least two profile photos from these accounts that appear to have been hijacked from other social media accounts, an indication that these accounts are misrepresenting their identities.

– spokesman for the cybersecurity company Mandiant

As is common with non-authentication networks, these accounts have profile pictures that look similar or are made to look like — in this case, they are pastel or black and white photos swiped up with soft light. In some cases, operators appear to have stolen profile pictures from other accounts, according to analysis that cybersecurity firm Mandiant shared with The Daily Beast. In one case, an account appeared to have stolen a photo of John Mayer.

A Mandiant spokesperson for the company’s analytics team said the network appeared to be focused on supporting Cuellar and that the owners appeared to have taken steps to conceal their identities.

“There appears to be some concerted activity between the network, the spokesperson noted — both in amplifying Cuellar’s tweets and criticizing the main Democratic opponent, Jessica Cisneros.

“We have identified at least two profile photos from these accounts that appear to have been hijacked from other social media accounts, an indication that these accounts are misrepresenting their identities. ,” added the spokesperson.

Accounts marked with other red flags. Their usernames follow a similar formula. They have very few followers. Many people don’t even follow the congressman’s account, but somehow they follow his every move.

In a relatively bland tweet For example, on February 10, Cuellar spoke out in support of the Texas tram network, adding that he had voted for a bipartisan infrastructure agreement to help bring that project to life. In the comments section below, the crowd went wild.

“Like always doing everything for everyone. That’s why Mr. Cuellar is recognized,” one said comment.

“Texas is going to be better for you, my family and I will vote for you, Mr Cuellar,” said is different.

“Henry has the best recommendations,” one chilled.

Another outside researcher who shared data with The Daily Beast shows multiple accounts were created in the days following the FBI raid.

The investigation is believed to be tied to an extensive federal investigation into American businessmen and their dealings with Azerbaijan, according to the report. ABC News. Cuellar’s own relations with the country spanning at least a decade, and this isn’t the first time they’ve attracted scrutiny. In 2013, his office and a group of congressional colleagues under the microscope involved a trip that was eventually revealed to have been financed by the country’s state-owned oil company.

While members of Congress on the trip were eventually cleared by the House Ethics Committee, the federal investigation pleaded guilty in 2018 to a Turkish-American businessman and donor. Cuellar, who lied to Congress about the source of the money.

Shelby Grossman, a social media research scholar at Stanford, also told The Daily Beast that she noticed some Spanish-language activity in the accounts.

“Some accounts that actively responded to Representative Cuellar’s tweets had a long gap between tweets marked with a change in language — tweeting in Spanish in 2021 and then tweeting in English in 2022,” Grossman said. “In at least two cases, the tweets in Spanish were deleted… These are tactics commonly used by digital marketing companies, where the accounts are used for marketing campaigns. different over time.”

The accounts not only favor Cuellar, they also go after Cuellar’s main rival, Jessica Cisneros, a progressive who is making a second attempt to unseat the moderate congressman. The race has intensified in recent weeks, with Cuellar on Tuesday releasing a advertisement called a vote for Cisneros “a risk we cannot accept.”

Lisa Kaplan, CEO of misinformation tracking company Alethea Group, told The Daily Beast that her examination suggests a concerted effort to attack Cisneros while promoting Cuellar.

“The tactic of consistently posting comments on popular accounts is something we see regularly in our work to understand the information landscape,” she said.

Trolls are calling Cisneros “hypocrite“With others add“In texas, the experience is worth it, you don’t have it.”

“You are too young to represent us in parliament,” one account said.

“You always want to pretend you’re doing well, but you’ve been beaten,” said another.

Several accounts focused on Cisneros were created around the time she made her main bid in August 2021.

The network didn’t just stop at hacking Cisneros’ personal accounts. Cuellar replies are also targeting her on third-party posts such as combination answer for a CNN report that Cisneros had won major approval from progressive colleagues Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Several accounts stack on one posted photo from the February 12 rally that Cisneros organized with Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and progressive congressional candidate Greg Casar, who is running in Austin.

Cuellar and Cisneros’ political showdown is in its final days, with Texas mail-in ballots already being distributed and early voting having begun February 14. Election day is March 1. After the FBI raid, Dem. The congressman feels love — From a network of trolls

Russell Falcon

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