As NATO commemorates 70th anniversary, robotic accounts spread rumours of divorce

Surges in inauthentic activity coincided with the December 2019 NATO Leaders’ Meeting in London, according to the latest instalment of Robotrolling by the NATO StratCom COE. 

This quarter, Robotrolling observed that robotic accounts focused heavily on the 2019 NATO Leaders’ Meeting, particularly on English-language Twitter, where the level of bot activity nearly tripled compared to previous reports. At the same time, Russian-language bot activity on Twitter decreased to the lowest level observed since monitoring began in 2017. On VK the meeting coincided with an anomalous increase in activity from anonymous human-controlled accounts.

While many robotic accounts exploited the contentious atmosphere surrounding the NATO Leaders’ Meeting, portraying the events as evidence of institutional disarray, other bots asserted that NATO is growing increasingly aggressive. As the alliance proceeds with planned military exercises throughout continental Europe, bots on Twitter and VK accuse NATO of rehearsing a large-scale conflict with Russia.  

In this issue of Robotrolling, we also dug deeper into a sample of political pages amassed by a COE report on commercial social media manipulation in order to identify patterns in inauthentic activity on Facebook. Our findings suggest that the 2019 elections in Ukraine were the primary focus of actors willing to pay for inflated social media engagement and indicate that the Ukrainian and Russian information spaces are especially polluted by bots-for-hire. Accounts delivering political manipulation share several traits, which are expanded upon in the full report.

As a new year of Robotrolling commences, we review trends that we have observed in VK groups over the past 18 months. We have observed a steady reduction in the proportion of content shared in communities dedicated to the so-called Novorossia region and the Donbass. Simultaneously, inauthentic content is increasingly being posted in community spaces such as private groups or pages. Though this trend may seem troubling, inaccessible communities account for less than 10% of content views on the platform.