On December 6, before Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference when he finally announced he will run for president in 2018, Vkontakte, a major Russian social network, was awash with messages praising the president. Quotes from the news conference were posted by hundreds of Vkontakte users with the hashtag #ПутинКрут (#PutinIsCool).
There was just one problem: many of those users have long been dead. Those who knew the owners of these reanimated Vkontakte pages when they were alive were shocked to see their friends’ and relatives’ pages resume activity after months and years since their final messages.
One woman, whose Vkontakte profile featured a recent pro-Putin message, hasn't posted anything for years. A few days ago, however, her profile suddenly came back to life, posting a Putin quote with the hashtag #ПутинКрут on several Vkontakte community pages. Someone, presumably her relatives who still had access to her account, posted a message informing her followers that Lyudmila passed away in 2013.
Most of these Vkontakte accounts belonging to deceased Russians now posting pro-Putin messages have been promptly suspended. When approached by reporters for comment, Vkontakte’s management said these accounts had been hacked by unknown perpetrators.
Unsurprisingly, many Russian users were unimpressed with such questionable campaigning tactics:
История с массовой публикацией тега #ПутинКрут во Вконтакте с аккаунтов умерших людей настолько мерзкая, что я даже не знаю, что они там будут творить когда кампания официально начнется. Так-то дно уже пробито.
— Wylsacom (@wylsacom) 17 декабря 2017 г.
The case of mass posting of messages with the hashtag #ПутинКрут on Vkontakte from dead people's profiles is so disgusting that I can't even imagine what filth they'll come up with when the campaign officially kicks off. In any case, we've hit rock bottom long ago.
«В российской соцсети обнаружили записи с хештегом #ПутинКрут со страниц давно умерших людей»
Поистине народная поддержка, даже мертвые за царя
— Сталингулаг (@StalinGulag) 17 декабря 2017 г.
“Messages from long deceased users with the hashtag #ПутинКрут were found on Vkontakte, a Russian social media network”.
This is what truly popular support looks like: even the dead are for the tsar.
Many of the images with Putin quotes posted by dead users’ profiles bore the logo of Molodaya Gvardiya (The Young Guard of United Russia), the youth arm of Russia’s ruling party. Responding to reporters’ questions about the incident, the organization's spokesperson Anna Rogacheva denied any involvement and blamed the “zombie” messages on ‘unknown provocateurs’.
Molodaya Gvardia's history as a pro-Putin youth movement has been mired in controversy. In 2010, two activists, one of whom later went on to become a member of the Russian parliament, were exposed after setting a bush on fire and pretending to put it out while furiously tweeting about it— amid a national wildfire crisis.
One of the movement's leaders, now a major political operator in the ruling party, is alleged to have ordered a brutal attack on a prominent journalist.
Looking back at Molodaya Gvardia's checkered reputation, not many were convinced by spokesperson Rogacheva's argument:
\\МГЕР заявила о непричастности к распространению данных от лица умерших пользователей\\
Кто бы сомневался.Конечно это мертвые с косами воскресли, только чтобы в сетях выразить свою любовь к вождю. Чет “Мертвые души” вспомнились.Комедь😬
— IrinaKingsize (@irina_kingsize) 17 декабря 2017 г.
\\Youth Guard of United Russia claims they have nothing to do with messages posted from dead users’ accounts\\
But of course. The dead rose from the ground with their scythes in hand just to express their love towards our leader. [Nikolay Gogol's famous novel] The Dead Souls comes to mind. It's such a comedy😬