November 2, 2018
UK Twitter users divided over Islam may have fallen victim to Russian trolls, according to a research group which analyzed over 9 million tweets.
Using a Twitter-provided data set of 3,841 blocked accounts said to be linked to the Internet Research Agency, the study shows how accounts “camouflaged” themselves after their creation in 2011 by tweeting innocuous things about exercise and fitness in order to appear genuine, before becoming politically active to divide people. Demos adds as a caveat that they are “dependent on Twitter’s determination that these are indeed Russian state-operated accounts.”
According to Demos:
- There were three phases in Russian influence operations: under-the-radar account building, minor Brexit vote visibility, and larger-scale visibility during the London terror attacks.
- Russian influence operations linked to the UK were most visible when discussing Islam. Tweets discussing Islam over the period of terror attacks between March and June 2017 were retweeted 25 times more often than their other messages.
- The most widely-followed and visible troll account, @TEN_GOP, shared 109 Tweets related to the UK. Of these, 60 percent were related to Islam.
- The topology of tweet activity underlines the vulnerability of social media users to disinformation in the wake of a tragedy or outrage.
- Focus on the UK was a minor part of wider influence operations in this data. Of the nine million Tweets released by Twitter, 3.1 million were in English (34 percent). Of these 3.1 million, we estimate 83 thousand were in some way linked to the UK (2.7%). Those Tweets were shared 222 thousand times. It is plausible we are therefore seeing how the UK was caught up in…