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Potential Covert Vehicles for Russian Influence Operations in Light of State-Backed Media Shut Downs

March 3rd, 2022 09:29

In light of the clo­sures and oth­er actions direct­ed against Russ­ian-backed media out­lets in the west, it is clear that Rus­sia will be forced to increas­ing­ly exploit oth­er, more covert vehi­cles for its influ­ence oper­a­tions. The Stan­ford Inter­net Obser­va­to­ry, affil­i­at­ed with Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, has ana­lyzed sev­er­al such vehi­cles described as “grey pro­pa­gan­da out­lets, unat­trib­uted pro-Krem­lin Telegram chan­nels, and inau­then­tic social media accounts.” Accord­ing to the Stan­ford post:

In this post we first dis­cuss over­lap in nar­ra­tives we have observed on Russ­ian state media, grey pro­pa­gan­da out­lets, and unat­trib­uted pro-Krem­lin Telegram chan­nels. Sec­ond, we build on report­ing by Adam Rawns­ley in The Dai­ly Beast by inves­ti­gat­ing low-engage­ment inau­then­tic social media accounts spread­ing pro-Krem­lin mes­sag­ing, includ­ing a nov­el per­sona pri­mar­i­ly focused on shar­ing memes about the Iwo Jima Memo­r­i­al who also occa­sion­al­ly spreads divi­sive con­tent about Ukraine and the U. S. We doc­u­ment these activ­i­ties not because we want to ampli­fy false­hoods, but to raise aware­ness about an ongo­ing tac­tic for researchers. Con­nec­tion between overt pro­pa­gan­da themes and Telegram chan­nel nar­ra­tives Over the past two weeks the Stan­ford Inter­net Obser­va­to­ry has been mon­i­tor­ing nar­ra­tives relat­ed to the devel­op­ing sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine. Ana­lysts have been observ­ing overt chan­nels, such as Russ­ian state media, as well as grey pro­pa­gan­da out­lets and unat­trib­uted Telegram chan­nels. We observe that the nar­ra­tives that state media and grey pro­pa­gan­da out­lets push can be found on unat­trib­uted Telegram chan­nels, and that in some instances the ver­sion of the nar­ra­tive on the Telegram chan­nels is more extreme. In this post we dis­cuss some of the themes that appear across the pro­pa­gan­da spectrum.

Read the rest here.

In Octo­ber of last year, the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) report­ed that Russ­ian state media out­lets Sput­nik and RT were expand­ing their social media pres­ence to Telegram. How­ev­er, in the wake of the Russ­ian inva­sion of Ukraine, EU coun­tries have begun to shut down the offi­cial Telegram chan­nels of Russ­ian-backed media such as RT (for­mer­ly known as Rus­sia Today.) This will only like­ly has­ten the shift of these media influ­ence oper­a­tions to the unat­trib­uted pro-Krem­lin telegram channels.

Ear­li­er this week, we report­ed that Face­book had tak­en down 40 pro­files tied to Russian/Belarusian dis­in­for­ma­tion oper­a­tion, say­ing the pro­files were a small part of a larg­er per­sona-build­ing oper­a­tion that spread across Twit­ter, Insta­gram, Telegram, and Russ­ian social networks.

In April 2021, we report­ed on an inter­view of an employ­ee of a “post-Sovi­et troll farm.” The inter­vie­wee described how the trolls used Telegram and oth­er social media plat­forms as part of the over­all crack­down on dis­sent, pre­sum­ably in Russia.