April 20 2022, 10:12 am

#IStandWithPutin Twitter Campaign Shows Pro-Russian Influence Operations Are Succeeding outside Western Information Spaces

US media has recent­ly report­ed that it may be too ear­ly to con­clude that Rus­sia is los­ing its infor­ma­tion war against Ukraine and the West.  Accord­ing to the arti­cle by the direc­tor of the Cen­tre for the Analy­sis of Social Media at the Demos think tank in Lon­don (CASM):

April 5, 2022 More than a month on from Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine, sug­gest­ing that the wheels have fall­en off Vladimir Putin’s pro­pa­gan­da machine has become com­mon­place. Russia’s play­book is out­dat­ed and has failed to adapt; Moscow has been stunned either by Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Zelensky’s great skill as a media oper­a­tor or by the viral feroc­i­ty of Kyiv’s own dig­i­tal fight­ers. […] Despite this, it’s far too ear­ly to declare infor­ma­tion vic­to­ry. If any­thing, this appar­ent consensus—that Ukraine has won the online war—might be obscur­ing where bat­tles over the inva­sion are real­ly rag­ing.  My pro-Ukrain­ian online world was punc­tured on March 2, when I saw two hash­tags trend­ing on Twit­ter: #IStand­With­Putin and #IStand­With­Rus­sia. […] Although each clus­ter was lin­guis­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from the rest, they had pat­terns in com­mon. All saw a small uptick in mes­sages on the day of the inva­sion, and then a very sharp increase on March 2 and 3. And all but one (the South African clus­ter) were doing the same thing: fre­net­ic ampli­fi­ca­tion. Sev­en­ty to 80 per­cent of the accounts’ activ­i­ty was retweet­ing oth­ers, and on the day of the UN vote, many pub­lished a parade of pro-inva­sion memes.  The memes pushed vivid anti-colo­nial and anti-West­ern imagery mixed with Putin strong­man motifs and sol­i­dar­i­ty among the BRICS: Brazil, Rus­sia, India, Chi­na, and South Africa. Some applaud­ed Russia’s great friend­ship toward India or Putin’s appar­ent role in African lib­er­a­tion move­ments, but many were real­ly about the West, its own seem­ing hypocrisy, and the alleged aggres­sion of NATO expansion.

Read the rest here.

See the full CASM study here.

The arti­cle argues that the viral #IStand­With­Putin cam­paign on Twit­ter shows that in many parts of the world, antipa­thy for the West is deep and sym­pa­thy for Rus­sia real. In such places, pro-Russ­ian social media influ­ence oper­a­tions can be high­ly successful:

A mis­take we in the West too often make is to sup­pose that our infor­ma­tion spaces—English, French, and Ger­man Twit­ter and Face­book, for example—are far more uni­ver­sal than they are. Remain­ers the day before Britain’s Brex­it vote, and Democ­rats the day before Don­ald Trump’s 2016 elec­tion vic­to­ry, didn’t sim­ply feel as though they were beat­ing the oppo­si­tion; they didn’t think there was an oppo­si­tion.  We’re in dan­ger of mak­ing that same mis­take over Russia’s inva­sion of Ukraine. The fact that we don’t see infor­ma­tion war­fare doesn’t mean it isn’t hap­pen­ing, and it doesn’t mean we’ve won. It might just mean that ours is not the bat­tle­ground on which it’s being fought.

The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) recent­ly report­ed on a study by the Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­logue, which found the hash­tags #Istand­with­Rus­sia and #Istand­with­Putin were pushed by a mix of inau­then­tic accounts and real voic­es, sug­gest­ing a coor­di­nat­ed Russ­ian influ­ence operation.

GIOR research revealed in March that the hash­tag cam­paign was also picked up by Chi­nese state-backed media out­let The Glob­al Times, which claimed the hash­tags were a sign that neti­zens world­wide would “join in to crit­i­cize the US and West­ern coun­tries’ hypocrisy.”


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