Learn more about our mission

The disinfluencers: How over 150 anonymous 'Irish' accounts are swamping X with extreme views

More than 100 suspicious social media accounts posing as Irish users are actively targeting politicians, journalists and news outlets with negative responses in a potential ‘influence operation’.

An analysis by The Journal of over 150 anonymous accounts on X, formerly known as Twitter, examined how the accounts engaged in attempts to influence opinions on a range of divisive topics in Ireland.

Some accounts show signs of being operated by non-Irish users, despite claiming to be Irish and posting almost exclusively about Irish political issues.

The issue does not appear to be restricted to Ireland, with similar accounts on X posting about divisive topics in other countries in the same way.

Although there is no way of verifying whether any of the accounts are fake, if they are part of a wider campaign or who is behind them, The Journal has been able to investigate their impact on discourse.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said in May 2024 that it is “without question” that foreign actors are “endeavouring to sow division in EU member states”.

In April 2024, The Journal also discovered a pro-Kremlin website in the Irish language as part of a wider investigation with the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) into a Russian digital interference network known as Portal Kombat.

Template accounts

The use of fake accounts on social media for so-called ‘influence operations’ is not new, and has previously been seen in the United States during the 2016 presidential election and across the world following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The operations occur when large numbers of accounts spread misinformation to alter opinions or how people see political events.

“Influence ops can take the form of spreading misinformation, but could, for example, also mean boosting something true but relatively minor to take a disproportionate size in online conversations,” the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has said.

No such operation has yet come to light in Ireland.

In order to examine whether the phenomenon exists here, The Journal monitored around 150 accounts that follow an apparent template, with comparable profiles and styles of posting on X.

All of the accounts are run anonymously under the guise of being legitimate, and most commonly reply to posts by politicians, political parties, news outlets and journalists.

Many have overlapping features like similar usernames, use of images and a propensity to post about the same political issues on the platform, often with the same viewpoint.

Names, ‘about’ information and images on the accounts tend to place a particular emphasis on Ireland and their Irishness in ways that most genuine accounts do not.

Most accounts avoid using a person’s face as a profile image, and instead opt for animations or images generated by AI, including things like leprechauns, people dressed in tricolours or clothing in the colours of the Irish flag, or people protesting.

Usernames are often a first name followed by a string of digits or other generic descriptors like “Carlow lad”, “Irish fiddler” or simply “Irish man”.

Others use Irish names like Desmond Kelly, Margaret O’Shea and Mick Maguire; The Journal attempted to find corresponding accounts using these names on other social media platforms, but no similar accounts were found.

Like the use of generic profile images, banner images on a number of the accounts are also stock images of well-known Irish places like Glendalough, the Cliffs of Moher, or cliched aspects of Irish culture and mythology like a harp or an Irish wolfhound.

In several instances, images and names of accounts target politicians or political parties by parodying real names, or using disparaging images of parties in their profiles (e.g. one account used an image with Sinn Féin’s logo replaced with the words “Sharia Féin”).

Some accounts also came to our attention because of their prolific rate of posting, with a number doing so at an average rate of 90 times per day – once every 16 minutes – over a number of years.

One account with the username @JoyceWillBeNext has posted almost 99,000 times since it was set up in March 2023, meaning it has posted an average 220 posts every day or once every seven minutes since then.

However, not all of the accounts were this prolific and some posted more infrequently at a rate of just a couple of times per day.

Posting style

In almost every case, the accounts take aim at politicians, the media and minorities and post exclusively about Irish and international politics and nothing else.

They do so by replying to political and news-oriented accounts when they post on X about certain divisive issues, such as immigration, trans issues, Gaza or the war in Ukraine.

The X feeds of major Irish news organisations show that posts sharing stories about these issues tend to attract significantly more replies than those about other stories.  

When replying to politicians, the accounts are highly critical of the Government and call for their resignation or for other far-right policies to be implemented.

The majority tend to express or amplify views that are anti-immigrant, anti-trans, anti-Gaza and pro-Kremlin, though it was also possible to find a number who posted in support of Ukraine and who expressed more progressive opinions.

Many follow each other, share and ‘like’ each other’s posts, and reply to the same threads under political posts or news stories on X, often to make the same points.

The content they re-share includes videos of anti-immigrant protests, misinformation and conspiracy theories about ethnic minorities, Muslims and trans people, and calls to vote for far-right political parties or criticism of mainstream parties and politicians.

As they post, they change perceptions of how people feel about contentious topics on X and make it more difficult to find non-extreme opinions in replies to accounts with large followings on the platform.

To help promote their messages, several of the accounts are verified with a paid-for blue tick, enabling their posts to appear more prominently – which helps them push their opinions to normal users who read beneath posts by politicians and news outlets on X.

One such account, @FellaWrites, replies several times a day to posts by news outlets on X, with such posts being seen hundreds or thousands of times.

The account has an animated profile picture and claims in its ‘about’ section to be a “former leftie who got more conservative” while encouraging people to vote for the far-right Irish Freedom Party. It is not clear who is behind the account.

It was initially set up in July 2023 as a troll account called @EquityIrelandHQ, with a search of replies to that handle on X now redirecting to a search for replies to @FellaWrites.

The initial account posed as a fake charity that satirised protests outside Irish libraries last year over books about gender identity and called for asylum seekers to be housed in wealthy areas.

It initially focused on anti-trans arguments but has since pivoted to mainly posting about immigration, though it has also been critical of support for Gaza and recognition of Palestinian statehood.

It frequently re-posts far-right, anti-immigrant posts on X and interacts positively with people in the movement, while also promoting their talking points in its replies to other accounts.

The account also regularly deploys a tactic commonly used by other suspicious accounts: repeatedly spamming the same talking point – often word-for-word – or the same images or videos in replies to posts by much bigger accounts.

It criticised the decision by the Government to recognise the State of Palestine by sharing the same video beneath the replies of Fianna Fáil European election candidates Cynthia Ní Mhurchú and MEP Billy Kelleher, Senator Mary Fitzpatrick and TD Christopher O’Sullivan, as well as Sinn Féin’s Paul Gavan.

On the same day in May 2024, it also criticised the decision by repeatedly posting another video critical of Hamas under the accounts of the State of Palestine, Fianna Fáil, Aontú RTÉ journalist Micheál Lehane, Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew, Green Party TDs Patrick Costello and Catherine Martin.

Though some of the account’s posts are seen just a handful of times, according to X’s analytics, many others are seen by thousands of people and are widely re-shared on the platform.

One post in April 2024 about people claiming asylum in Ireland from Georgia, Nigeria and Algeria was re-posted by more than 500 people and clocked up over 115,000 views.

“If it were not for Helen McEntee’s Justice Dept’s rejection rates, we would barely have any asylum seekers here at all,” it claimed.

Despite a lack of clarity over who is behind the account, and frequent posts that claim the person behind it is Irish, it shows occasional signs that it is operated by a non-Irish person – in particular, posts in broken English that suggest the person is not a native speaker.

In August last year, it responded to one user expressing support for the LGBTQ community by nonsensically posting: “Every third like you give here a half naked man with an erection. If I saw a straight man with the same for women, I’d think the same.”

It also sought to criticise trans people by posting: “You don’t have normalise every fetish, you very much so shouldn’t.”

The account also occasionally misunderstands Irish politics, like when it replied to a post by Newstalk criticising Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe for having an interest in taxation.

It remains unclear who exactly is behind the account, which has no apparent presence outside of X.

Real names

Other accounts use real names but share similar positions and likewise post constantly in the replies to posts by politicians, parties, news organisations and journalists.

One such account belongs to a user calling themselves Mary O’Brian, who goes by the handle @mobfecit and whose profile image is of a statue of the suffragette Millicent Fawcett.

The account positions itself as an Irish “TERF” (anti-trans campaigner), and its initial output focused on criticising the LGBTQ community in replies to posts by politicians and media outlets.

It has posted almost 22,000 times since it shared its first post on X on 9 May 2022, averaging more than 29 posts every day for more than two years.

However, most of its recent posts concern immigration and the conflict in Gaza, while it also regularly re-shares election-related posts from the political party Aontú (though there is no indication that the account is associated with the party).

Posts by the Mary O’Brian account show how the overwhelming majority of replies it made on X were to posts by politicians, news organisations and prominent figures in the media.

And similar to the posting style of other suspicious accounts, the account regularly repeats itself when replying to posts, in order to amplify certain messages.

In the last week of our investigation, it responded to seven posts about Ireland recognising Palestinian statehood, including by Tánaiste Micheál Martin, RTÉ News and the Government news service Merrion Street, by sharing a critical post from Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN.

It also posed 14 variations of the question “where is the Palestinian state?” beneath news articles, posts by journalists and political statements which mentioned that the Government had recognised Palestinian statehood.

It likewise responded to Ireland’s recognition of the State of Palestine by repeatedly sharing an image explaining how the Irish Government expressed a message of sympathy to Germany following the death of Adolf Hitler.

The account has similarly repeated anti-immigrant arguments beneath accounts belonging to Irish media and politicians since shortly after it was set up.

Amid the controversy between Ireland and the United Kingdom over the arrival of asylum seekers across the border with Northern Ireland, the account repeatedly posted the same wording of the UK Government’s position between news articles on 29 April.

The tactic helps to ensure such arguments receive more traction than those who post in a more natural, conversational style, though it is not against X policies to post like this.

Irish flags

Although it posts with high frequency and tends to repeat its points, the Mary O’Brian account stands out as more low-key in its attempts to influence opinions on X because it is not overtly nationalist and does not over-emphasise its supposed Irishness.

Other anonymous accounts, however, are set up in a way that is more over-the-top.

Many avoid the use of individual names completely and instead have names that refer to Ireland or Irishness – like Irish Cailín, Irishman, Proud Irish Paddy, Ireland4Ever, or GirlyIreland – or use Irish language phrases like An tSean bhean bhocht.

To play up their Irishness, some accounts will often state things like “I’m Irish” or “I’m from Ireland” in their posts, even when it isn’t relevant to the conversation they’re having.

A search of those two phrases in a list of legitimate accounts belonging to far-right users on X found that they were posted 13 times by eight different accounts from January to May 2024.

In comparison, a similar search for the phrases in a list of suspicious accounts found that the phrases “I’m Irish” or “I’m from Ireland” were posted almost 130 times by almost 50 separate accounts over the same period.

Others are set up to eschew any kind of personal identity and instead present themselves as Irish-focused interest pages.

One of these, called Éire News (@eirenews_ie), claims to post “stories from Ireland by independent citizen journalists”.

Its posting style is similar to other anonymous accounts, in that it re-shares far-right content and posts to its main feed and replies almost exclusively to accounts belonging to Irish political parties or individuals and media groups.

Many of its posts are short criticisms of the Government using emojis, like a recent reply to a Fine Gael post which simply stated “FG = [coffin emoji]“.

It also posts misinformation and conspiracy theories.

The account more frequently amplifies Irish far-right figures by re-sharing their posts and regularly using hashtags like #IrelandIsFull or the names of towns where anti-immigrant demos are taking place.

Several replies to political posts contained the same image – another instance of the repetitive nature of such accounts – and suggested conspiratorially that there may be foreign interference in the upcoming elections.

However, other posts by the account show that it may itself be operated by a non-Irish person or group, with similar issues around its use of English and Irish phrases like  those seen with the @FellaWrites account.

When independent candidate Malachy Steenson said he was threatened while canvassing in Dublin’s East Wall in May 2024, the ÉireNews account re-shared a video by Steenson and commented: “The Irish Regime and the British Security Services leader in Ireland send a gunman to Malachy Steenson?”

(There was never any claim that there was a gunman present during the alleged incident.)

The week before, it also responded to untrue far-right claims of PSNI involvement in recent protests at Newtownmountkennedy by re-sharing another video alongside the comment: “Stench of Royal Ulster to the flooding of Ireland with international bums.”

As with other accounts, it remains unclear who exactly is behind the account.

Non-political page

At a glance, anonymous accounts can seem legitimate and may not draw any suspicion to X users who read their replies to posts casually.

Some do this by masquerading as non-political, when the reality is that their primary output on the platform involves pushing fringe and extreme views .

One account posing as a GAA fan account under the handle @NoMorePenalLaw appears from the outside to be set up to share videos and images of Dublin football games, especially from the official Dublin GAA account.

However, its replies reveal that it more frequently posts pro-Kremlin/anti-Ukrainian and anti-immigrant talking points in replies to politicians and media outlets, with only sporadic posts about Dublin or GAA.

For instance, it responded to a post by RTÉ News about the Russian Government’s admission of the role of Islamic State in a terrorist attack on a Moscow concert hall in March by sharing a pro-Kremlin conspiracy about the involvement of Ukraine.

“This misdirecting headline mentioning only part of the facts is what we’ve come to expect from RTE,” it wrote.

In another reply to RTÉ the previous week about a Russian strike on a Ukrainian apartment block, the account repeated a narrative pushed by pro-Kremlin accounts recently that Western countries are spending too much money on Ukraine.

“Come on enough of the excuses, it was another civilian target struck by [Ukrainian] arms, that our taxpayer €s are helping fund ..just like [Ukraine] did with multiple others strikes on civilian areas in Donetsk and Lughansk yesterday,” it posted.

X’s policy on impersonation and deceptive identities state that it is not against the rules to display a fake name or image of someone else on profiles.

However, the company also says that accounts should not “pose as someone who doesn’t exist to mislead others about who you are or who you represent”.

The company also considers accounts to be deceptive if they use a computer generated image of a person to pose as someone who doesn’t exist.

It is unclear how many, if any, of the over 150 anonymous accounts are breaking the rules on X.


May 27, 2024



May 27, 2024

Stephen McDermott

Assistant News Editor and FactChecker with The Journal

The Journal
Knowledge Bank

FactCheck is a central unit of Ireland’s leading digital native news site, The Journal. For over a decade, we have strived to be an independent and objective source of information in an online world that is full of noise and diversions.

Our mission is to reduce the noise levels and bring clarity to public discourse on the topics impacting citizens’ daily lives.

Contact us at: factcheck@thejournal.ie

Visit thejournal.ie/factcheck/news/ to stay up to date on our latest explainers


We use cookies to make our site work and also for analytics purposes. You can enable or disable optional cookies as desired. See our Cookie Policy for more details.