Russian Federation used web posts 'to disrupt' Brexit vote

Remigio Civitarese
Novembre 15, 2017

Russian Twitter accounts posted nearly 45,000 messages about Brexit in 48 hours during last year's referendum in an apparently co-ordinated attempt to sow discord, The Times can reveal.

More than 150,000 accounts based in Russian Federation, which had previously confined their posts to subjects such as the Ukrainian conflict, switched attention to Brexit in the days leading up to last year's vote, according to research for an upcoming paper by data scientists at Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley.

The Times said most of the tweets seen by the newspaper encouraged people to vote for Brexit, although a number advocated remaining in the EU.

Interestingly, the rabidly pro-Putin accounts had apparently previously tweeted in support of Russian interests in the Crimea and similar, before switching their attention to the referendum. They dropped off to near-zero nearly immediately after the referendum.

Co-author, Tho Pam, reportedly added that "the main conclusion is that bots were used on objective and had influence".

The researchers from the University of Edinburgh looked at 2,752 Twitter accounts which the social media site has suspended in the U.S., according to The Guardian.

US intelligence believes Putin sanction election interference
US intelligence believes Putin sanction election interference GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT AFP Getty Images

Damian Collins, chairman of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee - which is investigating fake news - called on Twitter to come clean about possible interference in the June 2016 vote.

In Britain, a parliamentary committee has written to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg asking for information on any paid-for activity by Russian-linked Facebook accounts around the European Union referendum and the 2017 national election.

The narrow "leave" vote was a huge tactical win for Putin, weakening Europe and tying the United Kingdom up in wranglings over its departure for years.

The report comes a day after Prime Minister Theresa May publicly rebuked Russian Federation in a speech for trying to "sow discord in the West" with fake news and divisive social media campaigns.

"It is seeking to weaponize information", she said.

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