"This is the best plan that the DNC and corporate media can come up with. how manipulative, alarmist, and pathetic. 1984 is here."
Bernie supporters who were administering his campaign pages on Facebook noticed the bots in real time but didn't know what to make of them at that time:
Bernie Sanders' Campaign Faced A Fake News Tsunami. Where Did It Come From?
The trolls set out to distract and divide the invigorated left.
Last June, John Mattes started noticing something coursing like a virus through the Facebook page he helped administer for Bernie Sanders fans in San Diego. People with no apparent ties to California were friending the page and sharing links from unfamiliar sites full of anti-Hillary Clinton propaganda.
Mattes, 66, had been a television reporter and Senate investigator in previous lives. He put his expertise in unmasking fraudsters to work. At first, he suspected that the sites were created by the old Clinton haters from the 90s ― what Hillary Clinton had dubbed "the vast right-wing conspiracy."
But when Mattes started tracking down the sites' domain registrations, the trail led to Macedonia and Albania. In mid-September, he emailed a few of his private investigator friends with a list of the sites. "Very creepy and i do not think Koch brothers," he wrote.
By late October, Mattes said he'd traced 40 percent of the domain registrations for the fake news sites he saw popping up on pro-Sanders pages back to Eastern Europe. Others appeared to be based in Panama and the U.S., or were untraceable. He wondered, "Am I the only person that sees all this crap floating through these Bernie pages?"
He wasn't. Bernie supporters across the country had been noticing dubious websites and posters linked back to Eastern Europe long before Mattes did ― and even before The Washington Post reported in mid-June that Russian government hackers had stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. They had been warning each other that something weird was going on, posting troll alerts and compiling lists of fake news sites.