Russia: hundreds of fake Twitter accounts used to tweet about Brexit

419 fake Twitter accounts are belived to have been used 'divide society and destabilise politics' 

(Photo: Al Jazeera)
(Photo: Al Jazeera)

Over 400 fake Twitter accounts are believed to have been used and run from St Petersburg in Russia, to publish posts about Brexit.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have identified 419 accounts in total, operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA), attempting to influence UK politics, out of almost 3,000 accounts which were suspended by Twitter in the US.

One of the accounts attempted to stir anti-Islamic sentiments during the Westminster Bridge terror attack, which took place in March, in a  post claiming that a Muslim woman ignored victims.

(Photo: Twitter)
(Photo: Twitter)

Days after that, the same account shared press clippings including:

“Wow… I’m on the Daily Mail front page! Thank you British libs! You’re making me famous,” he said, referring to an article which appeared on Mail Online.

Chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, Damian Collins, which is investigating fake news, said that the Russian agency appeared to be trying to divide society and destabilise politics.

“What is at stake is whether Russia has constructed an architecture which means they have thousands of accounts with which they can bombard [us] with fake news and hyper-partisan content,” he said.

“We need to understand how widespread it is and what the impact is on the democratic process,” he added.

Collins demanded that Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, supply examples of posts from the IRA about British politics – citing concerns at possible “interference by foreign actors in the democratic process” of the UK.

“This is information they hold and I can’t see any reason they should be delaying supplying it,” he said.

These developments came to light following the investigation of the US Congress intelligence committee investigated Russian troll campaigning in the US presidential election in 2016.

Twitter said that it had suspended 2,752 accounts, which were tweeting about the US election, as it believed they were being controlled from Russia.

According to the committee, “it may well be just the tip of the iceberg.”

Several paid bloggers are working at the IRA to flood Russian internet forums and social networking sites of Western publications, to provide fake news and praise the country’s president Vladimir Putin, with the agency being linked to a businessman who was once Putin’s favourite chef.

Prof Laura Cram, director of neuropolitics research at the University of Edinburgh said that at least 419 of those accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of 3,468 times, mostly following the referendum.

Archives of now removed Russian accounts show that they included people claiming they were US Navy veteran’s, Tennessee Republicans and the like – all tweeting in favour of Brexit.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson urged Theresa May to “bring political pressure to bear on tech giants to reveal the extent to which their platforms have been hijacked, and to take action against agents of the Russian state who use their platforms to disseminate misinformation and untruths”.

Tech companies including Twitter and Facebook “haven’t done enough to identify and weed out the fake profiles and automated content that pose a direct threat to our democracy,” he said.

On Monday, May gave a speech in which she said Russia’s actions were “threatening the international order on which we all depend”.

She accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media to “weaponise information” and sow discord in the west.