Influence and interference from Russian Twitter accounts following UK terrorist attacks

Russian twitter accounts influencing UK debate following terror attacks

The level of influence and interference by Russian-linked social media trying to engineer social division in the UK, including through Russian Twitter accounts, is considerably more extensive than has been reported to date.

A CREST report published today identifies the systematic use of fake social media accounts, linked to Russia, amplifying the public impacts of four terrorist attacks that took place in the UK in 2017.

The report was written by researchers at the Cardiff University Crime and Security Research Institute (CSRI). It was funded by CREST as part of our ‘Soft Facts and Digital Behavioural Influencing’ project, led by Professor Martin Innes, who directs the CSRI. You can read more about the project here.

Significantly, the project team found evidence of:

  • Stimulation of cumulative extremism: social media platforms were being ‘weaponised’ on all sides of the political spectrum, for example amplifying both pro and anti far-right messages.
  • Greater volume of accounts than previously thought: the project’s data show at least 47 active accounts.
  • Targeting UK uncertainty: the accounts were active around all four UK terror attacks that the project looked at in 2017.

The evidence gathered by the team shows that at least 47 Russian twitter accounts were used to influence and interfere with public debate following the terror attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park. Of these accounts, eight were especially active, posting at least 475 Twitter messages across the four attacks, which were reposted in excess of 153,000 times.

A significant aspect of these interference campaigns was the use of these accounts as ‘sock puppets’ – where interventions were made on both sides of polarised debates, amplifying their message and ramping up the level of discord and disagreement within public online debate.

Terrorist violence is fundamentally designed to ‘terrorise, mobilise and polarise’ its audiences. The evidence suggests a systematic strategic political communications campaign has been directed at the UK, designed to amplify the public harms of terrorist attacks.

The report is available to download for free from here.

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