X

#IstandwithRussia: ISD Report Exposes Russian Influence Operation on Twitter

March 16th, 2022 10:53

The Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­logue (ISD), a UK think tank, report­ed last week that in the days before the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine, a series of hash­tags began to emerge on Twit­ter in sup­port of Rus­sia and Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. IDS research deter­mined the hash­tags #Istand­with­Rus­sia and #Istand­with­Putin were pushed by a mix of inau­then­tic accounts and real voic­es, sug­gest­ing a coor­di­nat­ed Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tion. Accord­ing to the ISD report:

March 8, 2022 In the days before the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine, a series of hash­tags began to emerge on social media that man­aged to be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sur­pris­ing and pre­dictable.  As the inva­sion began, in the UK and around the world, #Istand­with­Putin and #Istand­with­Rus­sia began to trend on Twit­ter. What was going on? Was some deep bedrock of pro-Krem­lin sol­i­dar­i­ty find­ing its voice? The Times seemed to think so, report­ing that the hash­tags were also trend­ing in India, and not­ing “a strong strain of anti-Amer­i­can­ism” in the coun­try.  To those of us who work on plat­form manip­u­la­tion, how­ev­er, there was noth­ing sur­pris­ing in see­ing #Istand­with­Rus­sia lurch into view. From elec­tions and sum­mits to con­flicts and full-blown wars, we’ve watched for years as a trade­craft has devel­oped. Along­side air, sea, land and space, infor­ma­tion too is a the­atre of war. What we were observ­ing seemed to be a manouev­er in that the­atre.  Sure enough, research began to emerge look­ing at the behav­iour asso­ci­at­ed with these hash­tags. In one thread, Marc Owen Jones point­ed to a spam net­work using the hash­tag to try to sell elec­tron­ics. The voic­es they were ampli­fy­ing, he explained, were often flim­sy, day-old  accounts con­tain­ing stock images, with sus­pi­cious­ly high engage­ment rates and coher­ent mes­sag­ing.  All of this points away from a gen­uine social move­ment online and towards an influ­ence oper­a­tion pre­tend­ing to be one. It sport­ed a sig­na­ture array of tac­tics: inau­then­tic iden­ti­ties, real voic­es, auto­mat­ed ampli­fi­ca­tion and care­ful­ly chore­o­graphed mes­sag­ing.  It is nev­er going to be more impor­tant to spot infor­ma­tion war­fare than in the days ahead. With this in mind, we want­ed to take a look at #Istand­with­Rus­sia from a dif­fer­ent angle. We have been inter­est­ed in how this oper­a­tion built up in the days lead­ing up to the inva­sion, and as the tanks rolled over the border.

Read the full report here.

The ISD report shows that between Feb­ru­ary 26 to March 1, the hash­tag #IStand­with­Rus­sia was ampli­fied by 3,474 tweets and 12,568 retweets, and in the fol­low­ing days, the hash­tag reached a total of 153,558 tweets. While Twit­ter lat­er took down more than a third of the tweets using the hash­tag, the ISD report con­cludes that the net­work had already achieved what it like­ly set out to do: It had been trend­ing on Twit­ter and received media cov­er­age by the Times and oth­er outlets.

Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) research revealed last week 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 from around the world would “join in to crit­i­cize the US and West­ern coun­tries’ hypocrisy.”