January 26, 2022

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#columbianchemicals, this is how the first Russian fake news broadcast in the United States

Sometimes the world changes before our eyes, and Yet we cannot see it immediately. Because it goes so fast, bBecause the truth is so complicated. Then suddenly, the unexpected jumps towards us and everything becomes clear. This is similar to the story of the 2016 election in which Donald Trump won the US presidency.

Since the Russian intervention in the Facebook groups handled by Cambridge Analytica, the use of the campaign that year has changed..

Here is the story of the first Russian fake news on American soil: Mysterious fake explosion at a chemical plant in Louisiana. An online activity that acts as a real test before a large-scale campaign.

September 11, 2014. The water of Bayou around the city of Centerville, Louisiana is quiet. This is 8:30 p.m. Duel Arthur, a former Army Sergeant Major, did not expect anything in particular from this day. It’s Thursday and – except for the Memorial Days of the World Trade Center attacks that occupy the TV channels until this evening – nothing should come of disturbing the moisture at the end of this summer.

From the years he was in the army, Duval Arthur’s building was thick. A very long gray thread falls on his forehead. As Director of Homeland Security and Disaster Planning at St. Mary’s Parish in Louisiana, his shoulders slumped slightly under his blazer. Years have passed, but Duel Arthur still has a love for the flag, the country and its freedoms.

Strange news nowhere

There, in the late morning of that summer, his phone rang. A local calls him. “What is happening at the Colombian chemical plant. Is it explosive? Is it dangerous?“Duel Arthur does not understand. He does not know anything about it. There are many factories in Centerville, it is his job to ensure safety. And he did not receive any warning.

But if“His spokesman said,” The news is spreading.There is a risk of toxic fumes spreading in the area until 1:30 p.m. Take shelter, see local media and columbiachemicals.com



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Twitter Screenshot © All rights reserved

Online too, Twitter is in panic. @AnnRussela shares a picture of the plant in the Account Center, one of which shows a column of smoke. A man called John Merritt writes: “The Louisiane, Centerville chemical plant heard an explosion for miles at #ColumbianChemicals.

Some accounts share a screenshot of the CNN website, the national channel “Islamic State Claims Attack.” On Youtube, a video shows explosions, distances, and smoke constantly rising in the sky. On the Facebook page “Louisiana News”, 6,000 people regularly published an article describing the accident.

In total, 31,000 cases under the hashtag #columbianchemicals on Twitter describe a catastrophic situation.



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Fake blast at Clumbian Chemicals in Centerville, Louisiana. Youtube screenshot. © All rights reserved

Still, in the afternoon, a press release from the Columbia Chemicals plant in Centerville fell on local and national news outlets: “We have received reports of toxic gas leaks from a Columbia Chemicals plant near Centerville, Louisiana. The content of this message is not true. There were no toxic gas leaks, explosions or any other incidents at our facilities. We do not know the source of these reports. The police have been contacted and a case is being registered and investigated”.

At the Colombian Chemicals plant. In fact, nothing happened during the day. This event only took place online. This is a hoax. So what happened? It took a few months and New York Times reporter’s inquiry See clearly. Adrian Sen stirred up the threads of these Facebook accounts, Twitter accounts, these bots for a few hours. What he found – in a way – changed the face of modern propaganda.

Internet Research Institute and St. Petersburg Trolls

It all started before September 11, 2014 thousands of miles away in St. Petersburg, Russia. Sauchina Street is a wooded alley. In the center goes a tram. On either side are tall buildings with no soul. 55 is a large white cube that is crossed by a large window. Once upon a time the offices of the Internet Research Institute were here. Anyway, since July 2013, when this private company was registered with the Russian government.

The agency is known to have hired hundreds of young Russians to post pro-Kremlin content online for propaganda purposes from fake online accounts. After careful research, American journalist Adrian Chen believes these fake accounts are behind the Colombian Chemicals hoax.



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Former campus of Internet Research Institute in Saint-Pertersbourg © Google Maps

We are in April 2014, five months ago, at the Centerville chemical plant in Louisiana. And several months later according to investigations by U.S. authorities – A new department was created at the Internet Research Institute.

Translator Project. The program focuses on the American people and operates on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Its strategy includes, the report writes, “Interference in the 2016 US elections, with the aim of spreading distrust of the candidates and the political system in general.

# Columbian Chemicals, first test before the big operation of 2016

A month later, two women: Alexandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva leave for the United States. According to US reports, under the pretext of, and in order to gather intelligence for the Internet research firm. They planned a route, purchased equipment (cameras, SIM cards, etc.) and set up security measures (including exhaust shots in case of trouble). With tourist visas, they hid their real employer from US authorities, which would have raised suspicions.

From June 4 to 26, they traveled to various US states, including Louisiana. Seriously claiming that the Colombian Chemicals hoax was fabricated by the internet research agency – this trip is one with all the trips collected by journalist Adrian Chen.

A few months later, on September 11, 2014, when an American journalist called Duel Arthur, the head of the parish defense of St. Mary’s, Louisiana. Duel Arthur almost forgot about it thinking it was a funny joke on 9/11 Memorial Day. It was not long before he realized from the inside that he had experienced the first act of a story that would transform our relationship with the Internet.

New online campaign: Stimulates debate to divide the community

Today, Russia denies any involvement in the 2016 presidential election. But, according to the American justice system, the hoax #columbianchemicals was one of the first trials to manipulate online conversation in the United States. -United, in order to affect the outcome of the election. As early as 2016, a month before polling day, US intelligence was already alarmed by Russian attempts to hack elections.



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Opening Day: Concert © AFP or Licensed

In January 2017, at the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration, “The joint report of the CIA, the FBI and the NSA argue that there are two main motives for this move.”, Explains Sophie Marino, a Quebec historian who writes a dissertation on the subject at UCLouvain. “Undermining Americans’ confidence in their own electoral system and a second motive is to discredit Hillary Clinton.”

The sites themselves (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube …) quickly reported unusual activity on some accounts from Russia. There are reports released up to 2017. In its first report, Twitter deleted 50,000 accounts, linking more than 3.8 million tweets to these Russian accounts.. This is 19% of the total tweets about the 2016 US presidential election. That’s almost a fifth of the tweets about the 2016 election campaign.

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