The level of influence and interference by Russian-linked social media accounts trying to engineer social division in the UK is considerably more extensive than has been reported to date.
A report published by researchers from the Universities' Police Science Institute identifies the systematic use of fake social media accounts, linked to Russia, amplifying the public impacts of the four terrorist attacks that took place in the UK in 2017 - at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.
Analysing 30 million datapoints from various social media platforms, the researchers found that at least 47 different accounts were used to influence and interfere with public debate following all four attacks. Of these, eight accounts were especially active, posting at least 475 Twitter messages across the four attacks, which were reposted in excess of 153,000 times.
A significant aspect of these interference campaigns was the use of these accounts as ‘sock puppets’ – where interventions were made on both sides of polarised debates, amplifying their message and ramping up the level of discord and disagreement within public online debate.
Professor Martin Innes, of the University’s Crime and Security Research Institute said: “Terrorist violence is fundamentally designed to terrorise, mobilise and polarise its audiences. The evidence suggests a systematic strategic political communications campaign being directed at the UK designed to amplify the public harms of terrorist attacks...”
“With social media platforms being ‘weaponised’ by third parties to amplify these effects, they need to be required to urgently do something to mitigate this.”
The full report is available here. The research was funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST).