Analysis: Russian trolls suggest Putin enthusiasm in western media


Russian accounts have deliberately commented on hundreds of reports on dozens of news sites in the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere, prompting Russian-language media to use these very comments as the basis for their coverage. This was found out by a research group at Cardiff University, which only discovered this campaign through the comprehensive analysis. Taken alone, the individual comments are not suspicious enough. The researchers are demanding more transparency from the media about their fight against disinformation.

As the team now explains, traces of the campaign were found in the comment columns of Der Spiegel and Die Welt, but also in the Washington Post, Fox News, Le Figaro, La Stampa and The Times. A total of 242 reports with references to Russia were found, under which “provocative pro-Russian or anti-Western statements” were posted, which were then the basis for reports in Russia. There it was said, for example, “mirror readers think …” or “readers of the Daily Mail think …” to suggest that there is “great support for Russia or Russia’s President Putin” in the West. These texts had also been disseminated in Central and Eastern Europe, above all in Bulgaria.

The researchers came across the campaigns using various data analysis techniques, you still write. Taken alone, the comments would probably not have aroused enough suspicion, but in their entirety oddities were noticed. A single account has changed its location 69 times and even 549 times its name since June 2020. On platforms on which comments can be rated, the contributions of the Russian accounts would be rated unusually one-sided compared to others. There are also indications of coordination between the Russian state media and the private Patriot Media Group.

The affected news sites are particularly susceptible to such types of opinion-making, it is said. They would have no security measures to prevent such campaigns and it would be made particularly easy for the trolls to switch between accounts. Overall, the operation seems to have been going on at least since 2018. The tactics used made it virtually impossible to assign responsibility for the campaign based on publicly available data. The media would therefore have to be more transparent about their own measures. The British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab nevertheless suspects precisely this state support: “This report emphasizes the threat to our democracy from misinformation on the Internet supported by the Russian state.”


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