Bri­tish MP calls on Twit­ter to re­lease Rus­sian 'troll fac­tory' tweets

The Guardian Australia - - Technology - Robert Booth, Matthew Weaver and Alex Hern in Lon­don and Shaun Walker in Moscow

A se­nior Bri­tish MP has called on Twit­ter to re­lease ex­am­ples of UKre­lated post­ings linked to a Rus­sian “troll fac­tory”, cit­ing con­cern at pos­si­ble “in­ter­fer­ence by for­eign ac­tors in the demo­cratic process of the United King­dom”.

Damian Collins, the chair­man of the Com­mons cul­ture, me­dia and sport se­lect com­mit­tee, said he wanted to see ex­am­ples of posts about Bri­tish pol­i­tics af­ter Twit­ter handed a list of 2,752 ac­counts to the US in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, all of which it had sus­pended for be­ing linked to Rus­sia.

One of the ac­counts cited on a list cir­cu­lated in Wash­ing­ton posted a widely shared tweet at the time of the March ter­ror at­tack on West­min­ster Bridge in Lon­don. A tweeter called @SouthLoneS­tar posted a pic­ture of a woman in a head­scarf pass­ing the scene of the at­tack with the cap­tion: “Mus­lim woman pays no mind to the ter­ror at­tack, ca­su­ally walks by a dy­ing man while check­ing phone #PrayForLon­don #West­min­ster #BanIs­lam.”

The woman said later: “Not only have I been dev­as­tated by wit­ness­ing the af­ter­math of a shock­ing and numb­ing ter­ror at­tack, I’ve also had to deal with the shock of find­ing my pic­ture plas­tered all over so­cial me­dia by those who could not look be­yond my at­tire, who draw con­clu­sions based on hate and xeno­pho­bia.”

Af­ter the EU ref­er­en­dum the ac­count, which has been shut down by Twit­ter, re­port­edly tweeted: “I hope UK af­ter #Brex­itVote will start to clean their land from mus­lim in­va­sion!” and “UK voted to leave fu­ture Euro­pean Caliphate! #Brex­itVote”.

Collins said it was clear the deleted ac­counts were linked to the St-Peters­burg-based In­ter­net Re­search Agency, where, the Guardian has pre­vi­ously re­ported, hun­dreds of paid blog­gers work round the clock to flood Rus­sian in­ter­net fo­rums, so­cial net­works and the com­ments sec­tions of west­ern pub­li­ca­tions with re­marks prais­ing the pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin, and rag­ing at the de­prav­ity and in­jus­tice of the west.

The US Congress se­lect com­mit­tee on in­tel­li­gence said this month that Twit­ter had iden­ti­fied 2,752 Twit­ter ac­counts co­or­di­nated by hu­mans at the re­search agency, which tweeted 131,000 times dur­ing the pe­riod 1 Septem­ber to 15 Novem­ber 2016. It also dis­cov­ered al­most 37,000 Rus­sian “bot” ac­counts tweet­ing 1.4m times over the same pe­riod. Twit­ter said the tweets im­per­son­ated US news en­ti­ties, po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and groups fo­cused on so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

The MP said he needed the in­for­ma­tion about im­pact on UK pol­i­tics by the end of Novem­ber. Last month in a let­ter to the Face­book founder, Mark Zucker­berg, Collins also asked for “in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the use of Face­book ad­ver­tis­ing and pages by Rus­sian-linked ac­counts in the leadup to, and dur­ing, the 2016 ref­er­en­dum”.

On Mon­day, the prime min­is­ter, Theresa May, ac­cused Rus­sia of med­dling in elec­tions and plant­ing fake sto­ries in the me­dia to “weaponise in­for­ma­tion” and sow dis­cord in the west.

The prime min­is­ter spoke out against “the scale and na­ture” of Rus­sia’s ac­tions dur­ing an ad­dress at the lord mayor’s ban­quet, say­ing it was “threat­en­ing the in­ter­na­tional or­der on which we all de­pend”.

On Mon­day, the vet­eran Labour

MP Barry Sheer­man de­manded a state­ment from the for­eign sec­re­tary, Boris John­son, and the home sec­re­tary, Am­ber Rudd, on what ev­i­dence the UK se­cu­rity ser­vices had on Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity in UK pol­i­tics.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Wat­son, also asked why the gov­ern­ment was con­tin­u­ing to let Rus­sia med­dle in UK af­fairs.

The Twit­ter ac­count that tweeted a pic­ture of a Mus­lim woman wrongly ac­cused of ig­nor­ing the West­min­ster ter­ror at­tack is one of thou­sands set up by a Rus­sian ‘troll fac­tory’. Pho­to­graph: Jamie Lor­ri­man/Rex/Shut­ter­stock

The @SouthLoneS­tar Twit­ter ac­count was sus­pended by Twit­ter as one of the ac­counts linked to the In­ter­net Re­search Agency in St Peters­burg Pho­to­graph: Twit­ter

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