WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly after a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals in Ohio last month, anonymous pro-Russian accounts began spreading misleading claims and anti-American propaganda on Twitter about it, Elon Musk’s new The illusion of credibility to expand your reach using a verification system.
Kremlin-talking accounts on a myriad of topics claimed without evidence that officials in Ohio were lying about the actual impact of the chemical spill. The accounts spread scathing posts that preyed on legitimate concerns about pollution and health effects and compared Russia’s response to the train derailment with America’s support for Ukraine following its invasion.
“Biden provides food, water, medicine, shelter, pension payments and social services to Ukraine! Ohio First! Offer and deliver to Ohio! posted one of the Moscow supporter accounts, which has 25,000 followers and a profile photo of an undisclosed location and a dog. Twitter awarded the account a blue check mark in January.
Regularly spewing anti-American propaganda, the accounts show how easily authoritarian states and Americans willing to spread their propaganda can exploit social media platforms like Twitter in an effort to drive domestic discourse.
The accounts were identified by RESET, a London-based nonprofit that studies the impact of social media on democracy, and shared with The Associated Press. Felix Carte, a senior advisor at Reset, said the report’s findings indicate Twitter is allowing Russia to use its platform like a bullhorn.
“With no one at home in Twitter’s product security department, Russia will continue to meddle in US elections and democracies around the world,” Kart said.
Twitter did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
The 38-car derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, released toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, sparking a national debate over rail safety and environmental regulations, while raising fears of toxic drinking water and air.
The disaster was a major topic on social media, with millions of mentions on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, according to an analysis by San Francisco-based media intelligence firm Jignal Labs, which conducted a study on behalf of the AP.
At first, the derailment received little attention online, but mentions grew steadily, peaking two weeks after the event, Zignal found, a time lag that gave pro-Russia voices time to try to shape the conversation.
The accounts identified by Reset’s researchers got an additional boost from Twitter itself in the form of blue check marks. Before Musk bought Twitter last year, this check mark denoted accounts run by verified users, often public figures, celebrities or journalists. This was seen as a mark of authenticity on a platform known for bots and spam accounts.
Musk scrapped that system and replaced it with Twitter Blue, which is offered to users who pay $8 per month and provide a phone number. Twitter Blue users agree not to engage in deception and are Necessary To post a profile picture and name. But there is no rule that they use on their own.
Under the program, Twitter Blue users can write and send longer tweets and videos. On other posts also their answers are given high priority.
The AP contacted several of the accounts listed in Reset’s report. In response, one account sent a two-word message before blocking the AP reporter on Twitter: “Shut up.”
While researchers suggested some of the accounts linked to coordinated efforts by Russian disinformation agencies, others were American, showing the Kremlin doesn’t always have to pay to get its message out.
An account known as Truth Puke is linked to a website of the same name which is geared towards conservatives in the United States. Truth Poke regularly reposts Russian state media; RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is one of its favorite groups to repost, Reset found. A video posted by the account features comments from former President Donald Trump about the train derailment with Russian subtitles.
In response to questions from the AP, Truth Puke said it aimed to provide a “broad spectrum of views” and was surprised to be labeled as a Russian propaganda broadcaster despite its heavy use of such material. When asked about the video with Russian subtitles, Truth Puke said that she used the Russian language version of the Trump video for appeasement.
“We can assure you this was not done with intent by any Russian propagandist, we want to clear things out as quickly as possible,” the company said.
Other accounts brag of his love for Russia. An account reposted a bizarre claim on Thursday that the US is stealing humanitarian earthquake relief supplies donated by China to Syria. The account has 60,000 followers and is known as Donbas Devushka after the region of Ukraine.
Another pro-Russia account recently tried to pick an online argument with Ukraine’s defense department, posting photos of documents it claimed were from Wagner Group, a private military company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a key Putin aide. Has come Prigozhin operates a troll farm that has targeted US social media users in the past. Last fall he claimed his efforts to interfere with American democracy.
A separate Twitter account claiming to represent Wagner actively uses the site to recruit fighters.
“Gentlemen, we have interfered, are interfering and will interfere,” Prigozhin said on the eve of the 2022 midterm elections in the US. said at that time.
Image at top: FILE – A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled explosion of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, February 6, 2023. AP Photo/Gene J. pusher, file)
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