On April 1, the Russian government announced that Twitter will be blocked inside the country, claiming the need to protect its citizens from “fake news” and other harmful content. Free speech advocates roundly condemned the ruling, and many Russians took to Twitter to voice their outrage. People on both sides of the social media site’s popularity debate utilised the hashtag #Twitterrodionov to voice their opinions.
TwitterRodionovReuter for Russia in April
As of April 1, Russian Twitter users were taken aback by the debut of a new law enforcement officer they dubbed “Twitterrodionov” on their feeds. This newly appointed “cop” boasted that he was cracking down on “trolling” and “fake news,” and he even added a badge and the Russian flag emoji to his profile to show that he meant business.
Nevertheless, it was revealed that Reuters’ Twitterrodionov was an elaborate April Fools’ Day hoax. By adding the image of a police officer and amending the bio to read: “I monitor trolls and share the truth on Twitter,” the phoney account was formed by editing the profile of genuine Reuters journalist Maxim Rodionov. Please send me a private message if you discover anything suspicious.
Some Russian outlets even went so far as to say that the new Twitter officer would be imposing “trolling fines” of up to 3,000 rubles (about $50) on offenders.
The Twitterati were split on whether or not they found the joke funny. At least one user, @navalny, connected the joke to the “Orwellian” reality of life in Russia, where the Kremlin is infamous for stifling criticism and free speech.
Whether or not you found the prank funny, Twitterrodionov was a brilliant way to highlight the Russian government’s tightening control over the internet and social media.
The Russian government’s use of Twitter to meddle in the US presidential election
The United States intelligence community has concluded that the Russian government used social media to help elect Donald Trump as president in 2016.
When it comes to spreading misinformation, one of Russia’s primary outlets of choice is Twitter. It was recently uncovered that the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organisation with links to the Russian government, created hundreds of fake Twitter accounts with the express purpose of spreading disinformation and sowing discord during the election.
In addition to establishing fake accounts, the IRA also spent money on Twitter advertisements. Twitter has confirmed that it made $274,100 from advertising to the IRA during the election.
The Russian government’s social media effort unquestionably impacted the election, however to what extent is indeterminable. There is a good chance that the Russian government will keep using Twitter to spread propaganda in the future due to the platform’s prominence among the world’s most popular social media sites.
Dissension in the United States and how Russians used social media to fan the flames
Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was designed to stoke discord, according to the intelligence community. One of the ways they did this was by using Twitter to spread false information and incite unrest.
In April 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that Moscow was using Twitter to further inflame tensions in the United States. The Russian government used Twitter to promote disinformation and incite political division among American voters, according to the Journal’s investigation.
According to the article, Russian officials hoped to “amplify political turmoil in the United States.”
The Russians accomplished this by establishing phoney Twitter accounts for prominent Americans in politics and American institutions. In the future, they used these accounts to tweet to certain political groups.
Several of the messages were clearly meant to cause strife among the American people. Several of these attacks were meant to cause people to lose faith in the United States’ government or the media.
The Journal claims that Russia’s Twitter effort was “extremely successful,” reaching “tens of millions” of Americans.
An assessment from the U.S. intelligence community corroborated the Journal’s findings, concluding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to sow discord in the United States.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian government operatives used social media to “amplify animosity” in the country.
Twitter claims it is taking measures to reduce the spread of false information. Almost 2.7 thousand accounts linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency were removed in September of 2018.
Although Twitter’s efforts are welcome, more has to be done to counter Russia’s efforts to create divisiveness in the United States via the platform.
Here’s why Twitter let Russia off the hook
Twitter has received criticism for allegedly enabling Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Critics of the social media platform say Facebook did not do enough to prevent Russian hackers from using it to spread disinformation and incite unrest.
Twitter has defended itself by saying it has taken steps to prevent foreign interference in elections and that it is always improving its security.
In spite of this, there are others who believe Russia was successful in its interference because Twitter was cagey about its defensive measures.
What has to change so that Russia doesn’t use Twitter to influence elections?
According to the United States intelligence community, Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump win. Twitter has become a key source for Russian disinformation and propaganda, even though the Kremlin has denied any participation.
After the 2016 election, Twitter has taken measures to restrict Russian-related activity and account access. Yet, much more has to be done in the future to prevent Russia’s (or any other country’s) interference in elections through Twitter.
Twitter’s content filtering is in need of improvement, especially in light of sensitive topics like election tampering.