Russia troll farm tweeted more anti-Muslim posts than Brexit, new study finds

The tweets addressing Islam were shared 25 times more than messages about the UK's exit of the EU

Sarah Harvard
New York
Thursday 01 November 2018 20:34
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Fake news travels much further and faster than real news on Twitter, study finds

Twitter accounts linked to what the US calls a Russian “troll farm” have tried to use Twitter to encourage and spread anti-Muslim sentiment in the United Kingdom, a new study of 9m tweets has found.

Demos, a British think tank, gas a research report based off a dataset of tweets released by Twitter. The dataset contained 9 million tweets from 3,481 blocked accounts associated with The Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA).

Researchers discovered that Russian trolls tweeted more disinformation about Islam than those about Brexit. The tweets regarding Islam were shared 25 times more than posts addressing other topics between March and June 2017​. It should be noted the Westminster Attack and London Bridge attack, took place during the time these tweets were posted.

“It shows the moments we as a society are most vulnerable to falling for lies and disinformation — after a tragedy or an outrage, influence operations were at their most successful,” Alex Krasodomski-Jones, a researcher at Demos’ Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, said in a statement.

According to the report, researchers identified that 3.1 million out of the 9 million tweets were written in English. Out of those 3.1 million, about 83,000 were associated with the UK and shared 222,000 times. According to the study, Russian trolls created these Twitter accounts in 2011, and would tweet about fitness and exercise a few years after to “camouflage” their accounts as authentic.

“Hostile actors have identified online news and media as a weak spot in our democracies, and this data is a window into how they have looked to exploit it,” Krasodomski-Jones added.

The revelation comes after months of speculation of foreign interference in the UK’s 2016 referendum to leave the European Union. “It is plausible we are therefore seeing how the U.K. was caught up in Russian operations against the U.S.,” the report said.

Prior to releasing the dataset to Demos, Twitter said all the accounts listed in it were suspended for violating the company’s policies.

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“Twitter proactively published these datasets for this exact reason — to further independent analysis and investigation, and to promote a shared understanding of the threats,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNBC.

The concern over information warfare against the West continues to boil over after speculation Russia conducted operations to spread fake news to influence the 2016 US presidential election. In response to these concerns, Facebook and Twitter are working to thwart propaganda pages and fake news from their sites. For example, Facebook said it took down over 80 pages and accounts affiliated with the Iranian government last week. These accounts reportedly posted “politically charged” anti-American memes.

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