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Study: Russia-linked fake Twitter accounts sought to spread terrorist-related social division in the UK

Study: Russia-linked fake Twitter accounts sought to spread terrorist-related social division in the UK
From TechCrunch - December 18, 2017

A study by UK academics looking at how fake social media accounts were used to spread socially divisive messages in the wake of a spate of domestic terrorists attacks this year has warned that the problem of hostile interference in public debate is greater than previously thought.

The researchers, who are from Cardiff Universitys Crime and Security Research Institute, go on to assert that the weaponizing of social media to exacerbate societal division requires a more sophisticated post-event prevent stream to counter-terrorism policy.

Terrorist attacks are designed as forms of communicative violence that send a message to terrorise, polarise and mobilise different segments of the public audience. These kinds of public impacts are increasingly shaped by social media communications, reflecting the speed and scale with which such platforms can make information travel, they write.

Importantly, what happens in the aftermath of such events has been relatively neglected by research and policy-development.

The researchers say they collected a dataset of ~30 million datapoints from various social media platforms. But in theirreport they zero in on Twitter, flagging systematic use of Russian linked sock-puppet accounts which amplified the public impacts of four terrorist attacks that took place in the UK this yearby spreading framing and blaming messaging around the attacks atWestminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.

They highlight eight accountsout of at least 47 they say they identified as used to influence and interfere with public debate following the attacksthat were especially active, and which posted at least 427 tweets across the four attacks that were retweeted in excess of 153,000 times. Though they only directly name three of them: @TEN_GOP (a right-wing, anti-Islam account); @Crystal1Jonson (a pro-civil rights account); and @SouthLoneStar (an anti-immigration account)all of which have previously been shuttered by Twitter. (TechCrunch understands the full list of accounts the researchers identified as Russia-linked has not currently been shared with Twitter.)

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