President Trump’s whirlwind tour of Europe in July provoked ferocious discussion about NATO on social media. Anonymous human-controlled English-language accounts, expressing positions in support of or in opposition to the US President, dominated online conversations. Compared to the levels observed in the Spring issue of Robotrolling, the volume of English-language messages has more than doubled.
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.
The social media companies Reddit and Twitter have released lists of accounts identified as originating from the notorious St Petersburg ‘troll factory’—the Internet Research Agency (IRA). In this issue, we present the first quantitative analysis comparing English- and Russian-language posts from these accounts. The IRA bombarded citizens in Russia and its neighbouring states with pro-Kremlin propaganda. For English, fake accounts posed as Trump supporters, and argued both sides of the Black Lives Matter controversy. Russian-language material closely echoed and amplified the narratives popularised by Russian state-media.
Amongst the accounts identified by Twitter, 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.