Here’s how Kremlin’s “sick masterminds” will bait everyone from our kids to even their own troops
UK-funded expert research has exposed how the Kremlin is using a troll factory to spread lies on social media and in comment sections of popular websites
“Cyber soldiers” are targeting politicians and audiences across a number of countries including the UK, South Africa and India, the Foreign Office has reported. But what could be even more dangerous is what these Kremlin-funded “trolls” are spreading at home and among their troops in Ukraine. And Ukraine supporters, including Romania, reported cyberattacks on critical sites.
UK government-funded expert research has unveiled the latest tactics of the Kremlin’s large-scale disinformation campaign. The Russian troll factory, an operation believed to be working overtly from an old factory in St Petersburg, is being run by “sick masterminds” that pay employees and internal working teams to target the sites of major news agencies and politicians by leaving misleading and fabricated comments.
- Traces of the operation have been detected across eight social media platforms including Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.
- Russian state media has been spreading false news since the start of its invasion of Ukraine in February. One of its first attempts included when Russian state media said that President Volodymyr Zelensky had fled the country.
- Key tactical innovations of the operational methodology include the use of commenting behaviours, use of VPNs and deliberate amplification of ‘organic’ content supporting the Kremlin’s position. All of these methods help to avoid detection and interception by social media platforms.
- Romania’s Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said several government websites were knocked out by the DDoS attack, including Romania’s border police site, several financial institutions and the railway company CFR Calatori. The attacks began on the 29th of April at 4am with sites remaining offline, though local media reports suggest back-office functions remain operational, said a Techmonitor report.
Who are the masterminds and why are they doing it?
The operation has suspected links to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of infamous bot-farm the Internet Research Agency, said the Foreign Office in a statement.
The research exposes how the Kremlin’s large-scale disinformation campaign is designed to “manipulate” international public opinion of “Russia’s illegitimate war in Ukraine”, trying to grow support for their abhorrent war, and recruiting new Putin sympathisers.
We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war. The UK Government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations.Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said Putin’s attempts are “insidious” only shows that his propaganda machine is to “deceive the world about the brutality he’s inflicting on the people of Ukraine”.
This evidence will help us to more effectively identify and remove Russian disinformation and follows our decisive action to block anyone from doing business with Kremlin-controlled outlets RT and Sputnik.Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace gave a statement to the House of Commons on Ukraine. at the end of April saying that he and some in the House knew that, “behind the mask, the Kremlin was not the international statesman it pretended to be. With this invasion of Ukraine, all of Europe can now see the true face of President Putin and his inner circle.”
What is the government doing to stop people from getting duped?
The evidence shows the troll factory is using Telegram to actively recruit and coordinate new supporters who then target the social media profiles of Kremlin critics – spamming them with pro-Putin and pro-war comments. Targets include the senior UK ministers’ social media accounts, alongside other world leaders.
The UK Government will share this latest research with major social media platforms.
We are already working closely with them to ensure they swiftly remove disinformation and coordinated inauthentic or manipulated behaviour, as per their Terms of Service.Foreign Office
The UK has also created a Government Information Cell (GIC) to counter Russian disinformation. Made up of experts from across the UK Government, the Cell is focussed on identifying and assessing Russian disinformation and both advising on and delivering output to expose and challenge the Kremlin’s lies.
Through our unprecedented package of sanctions against Russia, we have already targeted peddlers of Russian disinformation, including Putin’s key political allies, regime spokespeople including Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, and Kremlin-backed disinformation agencies.Foreign Office
The Government has also directly sanctioned state media organisations, targeting the Kremlin-funded TV-Novosti who owns RT, formerly Russia Today, and Rossiya Segodnya who control news agency Sputnik.
What are the trolls’ misinformation tactics?
- Calling on subscribers to target the social media profiles of opponents and Kremlin critics, including prominent politicians and world leaders, and spam them with pro-Kremlin comments.
- Asking them to turn on VPNs and spam the comments sections of specific links to Instagram, YouTube, and Telegram.
- Focusing activity on posting comments, rather than authoring original content – a tactic likely to decrease the risks of being detected by social media platforms for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour and/or harmful content.
- Searching for ‘organic content’ posted by genuine users coherent with the lines they want to push, and then working to amplify these messages, in order that such views are distorted as the norm. This means that, provided the content they post is not too offensive, they are unlikely to be subject to de-platforming interventions.