Information operations · Information Warfare · Russia

Russia sent almost 45,000 tweets to target Brexit referendum

Russia reportedly used Twitter to influence the result (Picture: Reuters)

Nick Reilly

Yahoo News UK 

Russian Twitter accounts reportedly posted almost 45,000 tweets supporting Brexit in the run-up to the EU referendum last year.

According to The Times, a staggering 150,000 accounts began voicing their support for Brexit in the days leading up to last year’s divisive vote, having previously tweeted about the conflict in Ukraine.

Research by data scientists at Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley shows that the activity spiked on June 23, the day of the election, and June 24, when some 39,000 messages were sent before disappearing entirely.

The tweets are believed to have been sent by a mixture of ‘bots’, which are fully automated accounts designed to send out tweets every day, and ‘cyborgs’, which operate on a similar premise but also involve minimal human interaction.

The research by Swansea University exclusively tacked some 156,152 posts that mentioned #Brexit and found that one of the most prolific accounts operated under the name ‘Stormbringer15’.

It has been described as “almost certainly a Russian troll factory creation”.

On the day after the election, the account posted a fake picture of Russian president Vladimir Putin awarding an order of friendship medal to then Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

MP Damian Collins, chair of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, told The Times: “This is the most significant evidence yet of interference by Russian-backed social media accounts around the Brexit referendum.

“The content published and promoted by these accounts is clearly designed to increase tensions throughout the country and undermine our democratic process. I fear that this may well be just the tip of the iceberg.”

MORE: Russian hackers ‘targeted UK energy network’, cyber security chief confirms

The latest claims come after Theresa May directly responded to Russian interference on Monday, and accused the country of “seeking to weaponise information”.

“I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed,” she said.

“Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.

“The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.”