‘Russian’ tweets tried to divide UK after terror attacks

‘Russian’ tweets tried to divide UK after terror attacks

Russia-linked Twitter accounts are suspected to have been used to “extend the impact and harm” of four terrorist attacks in the UK this year, according to a study. 

Cardiff University research has found hundreds of related messages in 47 accounts previously linked to Russia.

Some posts were anti-Muslim in nature, while others were critical of any Islamaphobic remarks after attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, it was alleged.

The accounts intervened on both sides of debates to boost online discord, the research said.

Moscow regularity denies meddling in western nations via social media.

Damian Collins MP, chair of the parliamentary digital, culture, media and sport select committee, told the BBC: “It is wrong that any organisation should spread disinformation following a terrorist attack, with the purpose of spreading hatred and making worse an already desperate and confusing situation.

“At a time when victims are still lying on the ground and loved ones are in need of clear and accurate information about the situation, the deliberate spreading of disinformation is unforgivable.

“The methods of organisations such as the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency are becoming increasingly clear. Through our inquiry into fake news, I am determined that they should be exposed.”

Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute assessed millions of social-media posts and comments before identifying 70 suspected “sock puppet” Twitter accounts.

Forty-seven of the accounts had previously been tied to Russia by US congressional probes, Russia’s RBK magazine and other sources.

Fake accounts allegedly aimed messages at “thought communities” with multiple instances of them tagging Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League, and Nigel Farage, the former leader of Ukip.

Of the 47 accounts, eight were especially active, tweeting at least 475 times about the four attacks, which were reposted more than 153,000 times.

Lead researcher Professor Martin Innes said the use of Russian-linked accounts to engineer social division in the UK, including through Twitter, was considerably more extensive than previously thought.

The report said: “In the wake of the 2017 terrorist attacks, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook were used to spread rumours, fake news and conspiracy theories to amplify and extend the impact and harm associated with the incident.

“Terrorist violence is fundamentally designed to ‘terrorise, mobilise and polarise’ its audiences, so if social media platforms are being ‘weaponised’ by third parties to amplify these effects, then they need to be required to urgently do something to mitigate this.

“The evidence suggests a systematic strategic political communications campaign being directed at the UK, designed to amplify the public harms of terrorist attacks.”

Twitter released a statement saying: “In each of the attacks, the tweets identified in this research represent less than 0.01 per cent of the total tweets sent in the 24-hour period following the attack.”

St Ann’s Square in Manchester. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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