Edinburgh, Scotland—A study in the Scottish Referendum reveals Russian interference. Researchers from Swansea University have found that thousands of bogus Twitter accounts were used to post more than 400,000 messages in the months leading up to the Scottish Referendum in 2014. The vote, which was about Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom, had an almost 85% turnout, with 56% voting against and 44% for. Moreover, the research found that posts from unaccounted social-media accounts swell every time a Scottish National Party (SNP) politician talks about a possible second referendum.
Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May openly accused Russia of meddling in the Brexit referendum. She also accused Moscow of interfering in the U.S., German, and French elections and of hacking the German Parliament and Danish Ministry of Defence. The Spanish Government echoed these accusations by claiming Russian interference in the recent Catalan Referendum.
The study also showed tremendous activity spikes the on both the days of the Brexit vote and the day when Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the SNP, announced her plans to hold a second Scottish referendum.
“It would be foolish to think Scotland is immune from this sinister interference. Scotland’s clearly a place of interest for the Kremlin, said a Scottish Conservative Party spokesperson.
But how do these false media-accounts work? By bots. Lots of bots.
Researchers have discovered that troll farms located within Russia are responsible for doling out the thousands of posts, and the posts all shared a pro-Brexit or pro-Scottish independence theme. “Like the work on Brexit and the U.S. elections we carried out, this shows the influence of the bots in this area [politics],” said Professor Sasha Talavera.
Damian Collins MP, chairman of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports Committee, has contacted both Facebook and Twitter leadership about possible links of social media accounts and malign political interference.
Only recently, Twitter closed almost 3,000 bogus accounts accused of interfering in the U.S. election.
Brendan O’Hara, a senior SNP politician, demanded that the British Government investigate evidence “that Russian sites did influence the referendum. . . because we’re talking about the undermining of our democracy here.”
Russia has long been accused of meddling in European and U.S. politics. The Kremlin aims to either fracture or at least disrupt the West by supporting populist anti-EU and pro-Russian political parties and politicians.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press
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