US media reported last month that a consortium of British, American, and European researchers have created a tool called TrollMagnifier to uncover state-backed trolls on Reddit, a social media website. According to a Wired report:
December 1, 2021 Bootinbull [the name of a Reddit user, ed.] continued adding to Reddit, alternately posting cute pictures of dogs alongside debating China and Russia’s future role in the world. But Bootinbull wasn’t real—at least not in our traditional understanding. They were a Russian troll account, likely paid by the state to try and upend conventional online discourse and push the country’s talking points to the masses. The account is one of 1,248 identified by researchers from a consortium of British, American, and European universities as Russian-sponsored trolls, operating on the world wide web. The academics identified the accounts as questionable after tracking the behaviors of 335 users identified by Reddit as trolls back in 2017. Reddit continue to track spambots and trolls, processing 7.9 million reports of “content manipulation” in the second quarter of 2021. “These are accounts that are controlled by actual people,” says Gianluca Stringhini, assistant professor at Boston University, and one of the researchers who identified the troll accounts using a tool they call TrollMagnifier. The tool is an artificial intelligence model trained on the behavior of known Russian troll accounts, and it purports to be able to identify new, still uncovered troll accounts active on Reddit.
Read the rest here.
The Wired report refers to an academic paper published in December. According to the paper’s abstract:
December 1, 2021 Growing evidence points to recurring influence campaigns on social media, often sponsored by state actors aiming to manipulate public opinion on sensitive political topics. Typically, campaigns are performed through instrumented ac- counts, known as troll accounts; despite their prominence, however, little work has been done to detect these accounts in the wild. In this paper, we present TROLLMAGNIFIER, a detection system for troll accounts. Our key observation, based on analysis of known Russian-sponsored troll accounts identified by Reddit, is that they show loose coordination, often interacting with each other to further specific narratives. There- fore, troll accounts controlled by the same actor often show similarities that can be leveraged for detection. TROLLMAGNIFIER learns the typical behavior of known troll accounts and identifies more that behave similarly. We train TROLLMAGNIFIER on a set of 335 known troll accounts and run it on a large dataset of Reddit accounts. Our system identifies 1,248 potential troll accounts; we then provide a multi-faceted analysis to corroborate the correctness of our classification. In particular, 66% of the detected accounts show signs of being instrumented by malicious actors (e.g., they were created on the same exact day as a known troll, they have since been suspended by Reddit, etc.). They also discuss similar topics as the known troll accounts and exhibit temporal synchronization in their activity. Overall, we show that using TROLLMAGNIFIER, one can grow the initial knowledge of potential trolls provided by Reddit by over 300%.
Read the full paper here.
The GIOR has extensively covered influence operations by state-backed online trolls.