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