Russian government uses Twitter loophole to spread misinformation

In February of this year, reports surfaced on Twitter and Facebook that the Ukrainian government was undertaking a mass genocide of civilians. around the same time, conspiracy theorists began to say that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was an agent of the “New World Order”.

These claims have been thoroughly debunked, but not before attracting millions of views and offering a supposed justification for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More recently, Russian and Chinese officials have claims the United States funded biological weapons research in Ukraine.

Social media has played a crucial role in spreading these and other false claims. We have identified a network of dozens of Russian government Twitter accounts using a loophole in the platform’s rules to run a coordinated program of disinformation.

The dangers of misinformation

By “misinformation” we mean factually incorrect material distributed with the intent to disrupt or harm something or someone: a politician, a political party or system, or a way of life.

Since 2016 US Electionsmisinformation has been recognized as a growing threat to democracy.

Democracy relies on the ability of citizens to make informed decisions about policies, politics and world affairs. This ability is severely compromised when false and (deliberately) misleading claims are presented as fact.

As we saw during the Covid-19 pandemicmisinformation can also pose a serious threat to public health and safety.

Misinformation itself is not new, but over the past decade it has found a perfect place to grow on social media platforms.

Why Misinformation Loves Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other platforms are designed as amplification systems. They’re built to be open to everyone and drive volume on any type of content.

Anyone with an internet connection can access social media, where all kinds of content can be shared with a speed and reach not possible with traditional media.

The speed at which disinformation is disseminated – particularly via “bot accounts” – makes it difficult for content moderators to follow. the sensitivethe partisan nature of much online misinformation also means that internet users and journalists are more likely to spread it without checking it too closely.

Russian accounts on Twitter

Russian government Twitter accounts have played a key role in spreading pro-Russian disinformation. While Twitter has fewer users than Facebook or Instagram, it is a hub site for the production and dissemination of news.

We tracked the Twitter activity of 75 official Russian government accounts and found them to be a major source and amplifier of misinformation. At the time of writing, these accounts have a total of 7,366,622 followers. They were retweeted 35.9 million times, received 29.8 million likes and 4 million replies.

Between Feb. 25 and March 3, 2022, about these accounts posted 1,157 tweets — and about three-quarters were about Ukraine. The accounts attempted to spread false narratives to justify the invasion.

An area chart showing the daily volume of tweets by Russian government accounts, revealing an upward trend in tweeting activity both in general and about Ukraine specifically.