Woman holding phone with Twitter on the screen.

Twitter is being manipulated with pro-Russia messaging

Author Natalie Campbell 
Date 11 March 2022

Just one week after Twitter banned over 100 accounts for promoting an #IStandWithPutin hashtag, ADM+S researcher Dr Timothy Graham has identified an expansive network of accounts still promoting the same pro-Russian messaging that aims to bend the Western narrative on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

These new data findings demonstrate the ability of few accounts to hold huge influence over the platforms trending algorithms, showcasing the serious threat, and frightening ease of spreading misinformation online. Thousands of faceless bots spreading a message that manipulates the perception of a movement, cannot solely be mitigated by Twitter spam monitoring.

Using a complex network analysis and a data set of over 230,000 #IStandWithPutin tweets, Dr Graham has identified three main clusters of accounts pushing the pro-Russian messaging. These are: a suspected Arabic-language bot network, a group of spammers trying to hijack the #IStandWithPutin hashtag, and a group of pro-Putin, anti-US, anti-NATO accounts from India.

Timothy Graham post on Twitter: "It takes a while to run @Botometer on over 10,000 Twitter accounts, but the results are in... This network shows strong evidence that coordinated armies of bot-like accounts are responsible for getting the "IStandWithP*tin" hashtag trending.

As a misinformation researcher, Dr Graham detected bot-involvement when he noticed that many of the involved accounts had small followings and used generic stock imagery; two tell-tale signs of a puppeted profile. Dr Graham’s findings demonstrate the magnitude of bot-influence on the Twitter platform, which expands far beyond Twitter’s recent intervention.

Timothy Graham on Twitter: "The plot thickens: pictured in this network is evidence of rampant, large-scale platform manipulation to get the hashtag "IStandWithP*tin" trending. It is far worse than Twitter admits. The red accounts are suspended, but the blue accounts are all still active.

In the data analysis, Dr Graham also found that many of the accounts promoting the #IStandWithPutin message, explicitly advertise a manipulation service to followers, promoting their ability to make themes trend on Twitter through the excessive use of hashtags.

Despite Twitter’s efforts to limit the visibility of pro-Russian messaging in an extremely sensitive climate, Dr Graham’s findings demonstrate how the presence and exponential capabilities of bots online, hold huge power in spreading false or harmful information amongst limitless networks.