Social media, a new technology which once promised to bring the world together, is now being used to drive drive divisions in society. A recent news article detailed how Russian bots exploited mentions of Molly Tibbetts's death to distract from the Paul Manafort verdict are part of a coordinated campaign. Here at SafeGuard Cyber, we have spent months studying these bots. Today we're releasing a detailed investigation into how Russian Twitter bots behave and the tactics they deploy as part of a deliberate and coordinated effort to influence and disinform.
As part of our commitment to protect our clients from evolving cybersecurity risks, we have built a threat chain analysis capability that can identify and track the behavior of bad actors such as Twitter bots, based on a powerful sets of machine learning algorithms and tracking systems. Using these technologies, the SafeGuard Cyber engineering team has amassed a database of over 320,000 identified Russian bots. The fact that Russian state operators have so many bot resources at their disposal implies that they can organize and operate in almost military style to respond in force, and on a worldwide basis to impact global perceptions on topics of Russian interest.
Our research team initiated a study in the Spring of 2018 to understand the particulars of how Russian operators are using bots for influence and disinformation campaigns on a global basis.
Our analysis has found:
- Broad global agenda - Russian bots are active on many topics and across many countries where Russia has interests around the globe. For each topic, the Russian operators have a thematic goal such as dividing society( e.g. Brexit), revising history (e.g., international investigation on MH-17), undermining verified facts (e.g., Ukraine as fascist state), legitimizing conspiracy theories (e.g., QAnon), promoting Russian strength (e.g., "invincible" missiles).
- Mobilization around trending topics - It is clear that Russian operators monitor current news trends very closely, and will activate bot "battalions" to respond to topics of interest as these issues rise in the mainstream consciousness. Often, bot activity directly correlates with organic search trends.
- Sophisticated messaging tactics - In analyzing Twitter bot messaging, we find that bot operators are careful to speak in the language of target audiences, and deploy select hashtags to propel their content into the right conversations. Bots will also hijack hashtags and attempt to distort their meaning in attempt to sow further discord.
Whitepaper: Download the full report,
"How Russian Twitter Bots Weaponize Social Media to Influence and Disinform."