According to the Washington Post, the Russians were far more successful at manipulating social media and search engine rankings than previously known. "boosting lies about Ukraine's military and the side effects of vaccines with hundreds of thousands of fake online accounts.
The Russian operators of those accounts boast that they are detected by social networks less than one per cent of the time. This figure has scared the pants off former government officials and experts inside and outside social media companies.
Disinformation scholar and professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies Thomas Rid said that while Google and Meta were trying to stop this, Russia was getting better. He added that the 1 per cent claim was also likely exaggerated or misleading, but you never know with propaganda. Many of the 10 current and former intelligence and tech safety specialists quoted by the Post warned that the Russian agency whose claims helped form the basis for the leaked document is known for exaggerating their success, although to be fair that is what they are paid to do.
The updated analysis of Russia's effectiveness at boosting propaganda on Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Telegram, and other social media platforms cites activity in late 2022 and was apparently presented to US military leaders in recent months. It is part of a trove of documents circulated in a Discord chatroom and obtained by The Washington Post.
Air National Guard technician Jack Teixeira was charged Friday with taking and transmitting the classified papers, charges for which he faces 15 years in prison.
The assessment concludes that foreign bots "view, 'like,' subscribe and repost content and manipulate view counts to move content up in search results and recommendation lists."
And the document says a Russian center's disinformation network — working directly for Russia's presidential administration — was still working on improvements as recently as late 2022 and expected to improve its ability to "promote pro-Russian narratives abroad."
After Russia's 2016 efforts to interfere in the US presidential election, social media companies stepped up their attempts to verify users, including through phone numbers. Russia responded, in at least one case, by buying SIM cards in bulk, which worked until companies spotted the pattern, employees said. The Russians have now turned to front companies that can acquire less detectable phone numbers, the document says.
A separate top-secret document from the same Discord trove summarised six influence campaigns that were operational or planned for later this year by a new Russian organisation, the Center for Special Operations in Cyberspace.
The new group is mainly targeting Ukraine's regional allies, that document said. Those campaigns included one designed to spread the idea that US officials were hiding vaccine side effects, intended to stoke divisions in the West.