Kremlin social media trolls aren't actually that influential, study finds

дураки вы западники, ничего не знаете

The effect of Russian trolls influencing opinion through social media is far more minor than commonly supposed, according to a new study.

It is believed Kremlin agents orchestrated efforts to manipulate public opinion on the web, often around major political events such as the US presidential election, through dedicated accounts, or "trolls". These trolls spread disinformation and fire up discord on social media, distracting people from real issues.

Researchers from Cyprus University of Technology, University College London, and the University of Alabama, analysed 27,000 tweets posted by a thousand Twitter users identified as having ties with Russian propaganda factory the Internet Research Agency, and were therefore likely to be state-sponsored trolls.

The activities of these accounts were compared against a sample of ordinary Twitter users, who acted as a baseline.

Using a statistical model known as Hawkes processes, the researchers quantified the influence that these accounts actually had on the dissemination of news on Twitter, Reddit and 4chan.

Troll accounts manage to reach a substantial number of Twitter users with their messages, but rarely succeed in making the content they were promoting spread virally.

"We find that their effect on social platforms was minor, with the significant exception of news published by the Russian state-sponsored news outlet RT (Russia Today)," the researchers concluded.

Top 20 hashtags in tweets from Russian trolls and baseline users [Source: White paper by Zannettou et al.

The main topics discussed by Russian trolls focused on world events (e.g. Charlottesville protests) and organisations (such as ISIS), or political discussions related to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Although the topics remained consistent, trolls adopted different identities over time by changing their profile name and information, and deleting previous tweets.

"The consistent reinventing of troll accounts' identities, batch message deletion, and aggressive collection of friends and followers could prove useful for designing detection and mitigation techniques," the researchers noted.

While Twitter users typically post from mobile versions of the platform, the majority of the Russian trolls do so via the web client.

The study, Disinformation Warfare: Understanding State-Sponsored Trolls on Twitter and Their Influence on the Web, can be read here. ®

Send us news

Ukraine claims Russian military is using Starlink

Musk: No terminals have been sold to Russia 'to the best of our knowledge'

Pentagon launches nuke-spotting satellites amid Russian space bomb rumors

Dungeons and Dragons, high-waisted jeans, Cold War sabre rattling – the '80s are back, baby

Feds dismantle Russian GRU botnet built on 1,000-plus home, small biz routers

Beijing, now Moscow.… Who else is hiding in broadband gateways?

Russia takes $13.5M bite out of Apple over in-app purchases

Gotta fund that war somehow, eh, Vlad?

HPE joins the 'our executive email was hacked by Russia' club

Moscow-backed Cozy Bear may have had access to the green rectangular email cloud for six months

Businessman faces 20 years in prison over accusations of illicit chip exports to Russia

Shipments alleged to have gone to a sanctioned company

Australia imposes cyber sanctions on Russian it says ransomwared health insurer

'Aleksandr Ermakov' isn't allowed down under after being linked to ten-million-record leak

Google TAG: Kremlin cyber spies move into malware with a custom backdoor

The threat hunters believe COLDRIVER has used SPICA since at least November 2022

Sandworm's Kyivstar attack should serve as a reminder of the Kremlin crew's 'global reach'

'Almost everything' wiped in the telecom attack, says Ukraine's top cyber spy

Russia joins North Korea in sending state-sponsored cyber troops to pick on TeamCity users

National security and infosec authorities band together to help victims sniff out stealthy Russian baddies hiding in networks

Ukraine cyber spies claim Putin's planes are in peril as sanctions bite

Aeroflot fleet still has a smoking section, but not for tobacco

Five Eyes nations warn Moscow's mates at the Star Blizzard gang have new phishing targets

The Russians are coming! Err, they've already infiltrated UK, US inboxes