A report from Wired claims that Russian-backed social media accounts fueled the Nike boycott following news that the company chose Colin Kaepernick for its 30th-anniversary ad campaign.
An analytics firm monitored Twitter activity around the protest and found accounts that it believed spread misinformation to increase “anti-Nike sentiment,” per Wired.
“They were definitely participating in the Nike hashtag and in particularly driving it at the beginning,” said John Kelly, the CEO of Graphika, “a social media analysis firm that uses machine learning to monitor state-sponsored disinformation.”
Pro-Donald Trump accounts helped spread the disinformation campaign against Nike, per the report.
Graphika found 7,000 to 8,000 accounts calling for a boycott of Nike a few hours after Nike named the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback one of the faces of the campaign on Sept. 3.
A second scan conducted 12 to 18 hours later found 80,000 accounts using a particular hashtag that ignited the Nike backlash, according to Wired.
“Our understanding of how the Russians work – not just in the American political environment but in Europe and elsewhere – is they embed these sock puppet assets into the natural political landscape of the country they are trying to influence,” said Kelly. “They will strategically, when it matters to the Russians, carry a Russian message and inject that agenda. But most of what they’re doing is mimicry.”
The Nike boycott did not make a dent in the company’s financials. Online sales for the sports apparel company jumped 31percent following the Kaepernick news and its stock reached near-record highs.