Russia Using Internet Trolls to Target War Critics, U.K. Finds

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(Bloomberg) — The Kremlin is using a new troll factory to spread disinformation on social media and in comment sections of popular websites to try to manipulate public opinion about its war in Ukraine, a U.K. government-funded report showed. 

“Cyber soldiers” are targeting politicians and audiences across countries including the U.K., South Africa and India, the report said. 

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the government had alerted international partners to the troll factory, and “will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations.” The U.K. will share its findings with major social media platforms and has created an “information cell” to counter Russian disinformation. 

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The operation uses Telegram, an encrypted communications app, to recruit and manage supporters who then target social media accounts of Kremlin critics, the government said in the statement. Senior U.K. ministers and other world leaders have been targeted. 

Western social media giants have limited the reach of Russian state-run media outlets in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Twitter is applying labels to Russian state-affiliated media outlets, and tweets from these accounts are no longer recommended in the Home timeline or in notifications.

The European Union banned Russian outlets RT and Sputnik. Countries have also accused Moscow-backed groups of carrying out hacking attacks on Ukrainian organizations –- including defense, IT and energy networks.  

The U.K. said the trolling operation has suspected links to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a restaurateur and tycoon from Vladimir Putin’s native St. Petersburg, who has been dubbed the president’s “chef” because he provides catering services to the Kremlin. U.S. authorities have alleged he controlled a troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency. 

The U.K. has previously sanctioned both Prigozhin and the Internet Research Agency. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.


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