Robotrolling: Trump, NATO, and Russian Trolls

Latest Robotrolling report by NATO StratCom COE: President Trump’s tour of Europe in July provoked ferocious discussion about NATO. Anonymous human-controlled English-language accounts, expressing positions in support of or in opposition to the US President, dominated online conversations. With the US mid-term elections approaching, the aggregate numbers suggest fake human activity is on the rise. The fact that NATO’s deterrence efforts in Poland and the Baltics are being mobilised in this way is concerning.

Robotrolling considers Twitter-mentions of NATO together with one or more of the host countries Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. In the period 1 May – 31 July2018, Russian-language bots created 49% of all Russian-language messages about NATO in the Baltic States and Poland. In comparison, bots created 19% of all English-language messages for the quarter.

The increasing proportion of anonymous accounts active during key political moments indicate that anonymity is being abused to cloak manipulation on social networks. We call on social media companies to keep investing in countering platform misuse.

Additionally, the Robotrolling report presents the first quantitative analysis comparing English- and Russian-language posts from accounts attributed to the St Petersburg ‘troll factory’. 

Amongst the accounts identified by Twitter as originating from the notorious St Petersburg ‘troll factory’—the Internet Research Agency (IRA), 26 also posted about NATO in the Baltics and Poland. Our algorithm correctly identified 24 of these as bot accounts. The other two accounts were anonymous human-controlled (troll) accounts.

The IRA bombarded citizens in Russia and its neighbouring states with pro-Kremlin propaganda. English-language content created by the IRA sought to exacerbate societal divisions by posting to fake accounts supposedly operated by Trump supporters, and by arguing both sides of the Black Lives Matter controversy.  Russian-language material closely echoed and amplified the narratives popularised by Russian state-media. The fake accounts posted messages in support of Putin, his government, and its positions on Syria and Ukraine, and also published material exaggerating threats to Western democracies.

For enquiries: linda [dot] curika [at] stratcomcoe [dot] org