Re­vealed: toxic tweets of Putin’s pro-Brexit troll fac­tory

Del­uge of mes­sages that mocked Re­main­ers came from se­cret cy­ber-army

The Mail on Sunday - - Brexit: The Russia Connection - By Nick Craven

CYN­I­CALLY mock­ing the warn­ings of the Re­main cam­paign, these are the mes­sages posted on the day of the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and seen by many thou­sands of peo­ple as the UK de­cided its fu­ture.

But what vot­ers won’t have known is the posts, which may have in­flu­enced the re­sult, came from Vladimir Putin’s so-called ‘troll fac­tory’.

Made to ap­pear to orig­i­nate in the UK or EU coun­tries, the posts have only now been traced to the se­cret St Peters­burg op­er­a­tion ex­posed by The Mail on Sun­day last week.

A whistle­blower, who asked to re­main anony­mous for fear of Krem­lin reprisals, said: ‘We were ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing Twit­ter, mainly post­ing on con­tentious top­ics ob­sess­ing the Brits.’

On the day of the ref­er­en­dum, one ac­count called @PeterMagLob, pre­tend­ing to be Ger­man, be­gan tweet­ing up to 20 times an hour in English about the vote.

The Twit­ter ac­counts were among more than 2,700 handed over to the US House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee as be­ing linked to the In­ter­net Re­search Agency, the Krem­lin’s troll army, ac­cord­ing to CNN.

Us­ing hash­tags such as #EUref, #Brex­itInOut, #Bri­tainInOut, and #Brex­itOrNot, the mes­sages were all pro-Brexit.

One mes­sage – mock­ing t he Re­main cam­paign’s warn­ings of the con­se­quences of leav­ing the EU – showed a woman next to a bro­k­endown car with the slo­gan: ‘If you Brexit your car won’t start in the morn­ing.’ An­other showed David Cameron with the com­ment: ‘That’s hi­lar­i­ous! They ac­tu­ally be­lieve the scare­mon­ger­ing c**p we’ve been putting out?’ Damian Collins, chair­man of the Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport com­mit­tee has al­ready writ­ten to so­cial me­dia gi­ants ask­ing for de­tails of Rus­sian ac­counts which posted about UK pol­i­tics.

Next year, a spe­cial ses­sion of the com­mit­tee will be held in Wash­ingt on DC t o ques­tion Face­book, Twit­ter and Google on fake news.

Last night Mr Collins said: ‘This is the tip of the ice­berg. From even the limited re­search that has been done, it is clear Rus­sian or­gan­i­sa­tions sought to tar­get and in­flu­ence vot­ers dur­ing the Brexit de­bate.

‘These are early days in un­der­stand­ing the scale of this threat to our democ­racy, but it is vi­tal that we do. That’s why I’ve asked Face­book and Twit­ter to give full dis­clo­sure in UK elec­tions and the Brexit ref­er­en­dum to the DCMS com­mit­tee in­quiry into fake news.’

Twit­ter de­clined to com­ment on spe­cific ac­counts, but said of the MPs’ re­quest: ‘Twit­ter recog­nises that the in­tegrity of the elec­tion process it­self is in­te­gral to the health of a democ­racy. As such, we will con­tinue to sup­port for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tions by au­thor­i­ties into elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.’

RUS­SIAN IN­FLU­ENCE: Memes like those above could have swayed vot­ers

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