Fake Twitter accounts suspected of being linked to Russian troll factories were used to raise tensions and spread misinformation after four terrorist attacks in the UK, according to a report released today. Researchers at Cardiff University Crime and Security Research Institute say they identified at least 47 Russian Twitter accounts posting inflammatory material after attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.
The posts straddled both sides of the debate surrounding Islam and terrorism with some posts expressing anti-Muslim sentiment, while others were criticised those views, the report says.
According to the researchers eight accounts were responsible for the bulk of the tweets, posting 475 messages that were retweeted over 150,000 times. Examples included: “Another day, another Muslim terrorist attack. Retweet if you think that Islam needs to be banned!”
High profile Twitter users such as Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League, Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of UKIP and the author JK Rowling were tweeted in the hope that they would retweet the message and thereby extend its reach enormously.
“Terrorist violence is fundamentally designed to ‘terrorise, mobilise and polarise’ its audiences, so if social media platforms are being ‘weaponised’ by third parties to amplify these effects, then they need to be required to urgently do something to mitigate this.
“The evidence suggests a systematic strategic political communications campaign being directed at the UK designed to amplify the public harms of terrorist attacks.”
The accounts are thought to have been set up by Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which was recently revealed to have bought thousands of pro-Donald Trump ads on Facebook during the US election. According to Facebook some 123 million people viewed false news from the St Petersburg-based Agency.
Moscow has not commented on the latest allegations contained in the Cardiff researchers’ report but has denied past allegations of attempting to meddle in Western politics.