Researchers at the University of Adelaide have published a landmark paper on the activities of bot accounts on Twitter related to the conflict in Ukraine. These Australian findings are truly staggering – of 5.2 million tweets on the social media network from February 23 to March 8, between 60 to 80% were shared by fake accounts. What’s more, 90% of those posts were pro-Ukraine.
In particular, these accounts pushed the hashtags #IStandWithUkraine, #IStandWithZelenskyy, and #ISupportUkraine, and myths like the ‘Ghost of Kiev’, a fictional Ukrainian fighter pilot who is farcically alleged to have taken down 40 Russian jets within hours of the military operation commencing.
Significant spikes in activity were recorded at key points in the initial stages of the fighting, such as Russia’s capture of Kherson on March 2, and the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant on March 4.
The accounts identified were overwhelmingly English language, leading the researchers to conclude these fake users sought to “drive more disruption in English-speaking countries” and “influence a variety of user groups.” Despite the significant focus on English, Ukrainian bots also employed the Russian language to “cause more disruption” in the country.
The accounts were successful in their objective of stimulating discussions and trends around particular topics, kickstarting and increasing online discussion around a number of subjects, including the question of whether Ukrainians should flee the country. The researchers recorded “significant flows” of information from Ukrainian bots to non-bot accounts.
The study is the first analysis of social media content related to the conflict, and covers a very small time period – just two weeks. It is almost inevitable that the level of pro-Kiev sentiment expressed by users – troll and organic alike – will have increased even further beyond the 90% recorded during this timeframe. Numerous commentators have drawn attention to the weaponization of Twitter, Facebook, et al in support of the Western proxy war in Ukraine.
One need only spend a few minutes scrolling major social media networks to identify a profusion of anonymous, recently registered users pumping out pro-Ukraine, pro-NATO, and pro-war propaganda, and attacking anyone critical of ascendant Western narratives. It is, in the words of writer Caitlin Johnstone, “the most aggressively trolled war of all time.”