University of Adelaide: Bots manipulate public opinion in Russia-Ukraine conflict

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The researchers analysed 5,203,764 tweets, retweets, quote tweets and replies posted to Twitter between 23 February 2022, and 8 March 2022, containing the hashtags
#(I)StandWithPutin, #(I)StandWithRussia, #(I)SupportRussia, #(I)StandWithUkraine, #(I)StandWithZelenskyy and #(I)SupportUkraine.

“We found that between 60 and 80 per cent of tweets using the hashtags we studied came from bot accounts during the first two weeks of the war,” said co-lead researcher Joshua Watt, an MPhil candidate in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Adelaide’s School of Mathematical Sciences.

“This drove more angst in the online discourse and even impacted discussions surrounding people’s decision to flee or stay in Ukraine.

“We observed increases in words such as ‘shame’, ‘terrorist’, ‘threat’, and ‘panic’.

“Pro-Russian human accounts were having the largest influence on discussions of the war – particularly on accounts which were pro-Ukraine.

“To our knowledge, this is the first body of published work which addresses online influence operations in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

“In the past, wars have been primarily fought physically, with armies, air force and navy operations being the primary forms of combat.

“However, social media has created a new environment where public opinion can be manipulated at a very large scale. As a result, these environments can be used to manipulate discussion, as well as cause disruption and overall public distrust.”

“In the past, wars have been primarily fought physically, with armies, air force and navy operations being the primary forms of combat. However, social media has created a new environment where public opinion can be manipulated at a very large scale.”
Co-lead researcher Joshua Watt, MPhil candidate in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Adelaide’s School of Mathematical Sciences.

Fellow co-lead researcher, Bridget Smart, a Masters student in Applied Mathematics and Statistics, added: “Our research identifies that this is happening during the Russia-Ukraine war and provides a statistical framework which quantifies the extent to which this is happening.

“This work extends and combines existing techniques to quantify how bots are influencing people in the online conversation around the Russia-Ukraine invasion.

“It opens up avenues for researchers to understand quantitatively how these malicious campaigns operate, and what makes them impactful. This research has identified that social media organisations may need to be better equipped for detecting and handling the use of bots on their networks.

“It has identified that governments may need to have stricter policies on social media organisations, and that social media can be a vital tool during conflict.”

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