Twitter banned over 100 accounts who promoted the pro-Russian hashtag #IStandWithPutin. This was days after the hashtag became popular on Twitter during the invasion of Ukraine.
Twitter spokeswoman said that the company is still investigating the origins of the accounts and linking them together, and that it has banned the accounts from violating its "platform manipulation" and spam policy.
Only a handful of followers were able to retweet the hashtag's most popular accounts on Wednesday. They also used stock photos for their profile pictures. This led to disinformation researchers questioning how the tweets became viral.
This is a sign that Russia's once-feared firehoses of falsehood have been neutralized and drowned in recent weeks, especially as Western media and social networks have sprung into action.
Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle East Studies and digital humanities at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar, first discovered the swarm of fake accounts.
Jones stated that bots are a term people use a lot. However, what Jones saw was a lot of accounts showing inauthentic activity and astroturfing. They are not bots. It's much more difficult to verify than that. Think about a call center setup. Imagine the damage you could cause.
When authentic accounts started tweeting #IStandWithPutin to criticize it, the hashtag gained momentum and became a popular topic.
Jones stated, "This is the paradox in this type of behavior." "People denouncing the hashtag were some of the most engaging tweets."
The latest example of a Russian propaganda war in which the West has failed is its failure to gain support via Twitter. The Kremlin has been struggling to break through new digital barriers and promote an anti-Ukraine narrative since the invasion. pro Ukrainian content dominates on newer platforms like TikTok.
This is a significant change from the first six week of the year when Russian messaging was more powerful and pervasive according to Omelas, an analysis firm that specializes in digital analysis.
Omelas discovered that Russia invaded social media in January, while Western media was not as focused on Ukraine reporting. This gave Russia an opportunity to spread Kremlin-backed propaganda. Omelas found that Russia was reporting on Ukraine's invading Ukraine as a "military operations," and that Russia was encouraging war and other favorable narratives.
Omelas tracked over 192,000 posts from Russian sources on Ukraine between Jan. 1 and Feb. 20 -- 40% of all posts it tracked at that time.
Mid-February saw the Kremlin's support shift to the topic as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepared for an attack and troops gathered at the Ukrainian border. Andrew Gonzalez, geopolitical analyst at Omelas, stated that the West media's constant coverage of the conflict and consistent reporting that showed Putin the aggressor have dominated the news. This has helped to build sympathy worldwide for Ukraine.
Gonzalez stated that Russia is not getting the same attention from its audiences as it has historically. "The Western narrative that Russia is the aggressor and Ukraine is a tragedy is being believed more by the audience." This narrative is very firm at the moment."
Gonzalez said that Western media has strongly criticised Putin's portrayal in Ukraine of events, which included his attempts to convince viewers that Russia was ready to act in self defense.
Gonzalez stated that while it was not true a week ago but that it is now and that the world is moving in that direction, it could be seen from a larger perspective. Gonzalez spoke about the Western media's resistance to Putin's narrative. "Russia is losing ground -- and their media -- in the whole democratic media production effort that's focusing on Ukraine right now."
Omelas discovered that the impact of Russian messaging began to fade as an invasion became closer.
Social media platforms are expected to increase the Kremlin’s reach. YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms have limited Russia's reach, RT, and Sputnik.
Sinan Aral, director at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy wrote in a Washington Post op ed stating that the platforms had adopted a different strategy than when Russia invaded Crimea.
He wrote that "Today's information war in Ukraine has become more intense, more closely contested, and arguably more crucial than ever." He noted that motivating volunteers at home and encouraging support from abroad is critical to success. Russia seems to be losing this time.
Russia-linked accounts are being pursued by tech companies. Twitter and Facebook banned several fake identities that were created by a Russian trolling farm pretending to be Ukrainian journalists earlier this week.
However, fake Ukrainian journalists continued to publish articles even after the ban.
A Tuesday post on Ukraine Today's website is subtitled "What could the political structure be of post-war Ukraine?" The post begins with the line "The military operation continues in Ukraine, but its outcome has already been determined."