March 21 2022, 12:40 pm

Russia Exploits Twitter Loophole for Disinformation

UK media is report­ing that offi­cial Russ­ian gov­ern­ment accounts are exploit­ing a Twit­ter loop­hole to spread dis­in­for­ma­tion through a coor­di­nat­ed retweet net­work, although coor­di­nat­ed activ­i­ty is against Twit­ter’s rules. Accord­ing to a BBC report:

March 19, 2022 The Russ­ian gov­ern­ment has a huge net­work of offi­cial Twit­ter accounts — the BBC found more than 100 of them. They range from accounts that rep­re­sent for­eign mis­sions or embassies, with a few thou­sand fol­low­ers, to those with more than a mil­lion fol­low­ers. Pres­i­dent Putin has his own account. Many of the accounts are labelled as Russ­ian gov­ern­ment organ­i­sa­tions by Twit­ter. Yet, while many of these accounts have spread dis­in­for­ma­tion, Twit­ter deals with them dif­fer­ent­ly to Russ­ian state media — like RT or Sput­nik. On 28 Feb­ru­ary, Twit­ter announced it would pre­vent tweets from Russ­ian state-affil­i­at­ed media out­lets from being eli­gi­ble for “ampli­fi­ca­tion” — mean­ing they would­n’t be rec­om­mend­ed in the home time­line, noti­fi­ca­tions, and oth­er places on Twit­ter. But Twit­ter has con­firmed to the BBC that this pol­i­cy does not include Russ­ian gov­ern­ment accounts. […] Intrigued by this spi­der web of Russ­ian gov­ern­ment accounts, Mr Gra­ham — who spe­cialis­es in analysing co-ordi­nat­ed activ­i­ty on social media — decid­ed to inves­ti­gate fur­ther. He analysed 75 Russ­ian gov­ern­ment Twit­ter pro­files which, in total, have more than 7 mil­lion fol­low­ers. The accounts have received 30 mil­lion likes, been retweet­ed 36 mil­lion times and been replied to 4 mil­lion times.  He looked at how many times each Twit­ter account retweet­ed one of the oth­er 74 pro­files with­in an hour. He dis­cov­ered that the Krem­lin’s net­work of Twit­ter accounts work togeth­er to retweet and dri­ve up traf­fic. This prac­tice is some­times called “astro­turf­ing” — when the own­er of sev­er­al accounts uses the pro­files they con­trol to retweet con­tent and ampli­fy reach.

Read the rest here.

The BBC report says many exam­ples of Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion are still up on the Russ­ian gov­ern­men­t’s Twit­ter accounts, includ­ing unfound­ed claims about bioweapons in Ukraine. Many of these unfound­ed claims have repeat­ed­ly been ampli­fied by an exten­sive net­work of Russ­ian gov­ern­ment-linked accounts retweet­ing each oth­er with­in 60 min­utes. Accord­ing to anoth­er recent US media report, the most promi­nent accounts with­in the net­work are the two Russ­ian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs accounts (@mfa_russia and @mid_rf), the Russ­ian Mis­sion in Gene­va (@mission_russian), and the Russ­ian Embassy in the USA (@rusembusa).

UK media report­ed ear­li­er this month that Twit­ter removed a post from the Russ­ian embassy in Lon­don about the Mar­i­upol hos­pi­tal bomb­ing, which claimed that the facil­i­ty was no longer oper­a­tional and that images of the attack had been faked.

The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report recent­ly report­ed that there has been a clear over­lap between pro-Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da and gen­uine Chi­nese offi­cials ampli­fy­ing it on Twitter.


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