The Russian government said on April 1 that Twitter will be blocked in Russia in an effort to protect its citizens from “fake news” and other harmful material. Those who value free speech were outraged by the decision, and many Russians vented their unhappiness on social media. People on both sides of the debate over Twitter’s rise to prominence have used the hashtag #Twitterrodionov to voice their opinions.
TwitterRodionovReuter for Russia in April
It came as a surprise to Russian Twitter users on April 1 when a new law enforcement officer they dubbed “Twitterrodionov” began appearing in their feeds. This newly recruited “cop” boasted that he was fighting “trolling” and “fake news,” and he modified his profile to include a badge and the Russian flag emoji to demonstrate his authority.
It was revealed, however, that Reuters’ Twitterrodionov was a complex April Fools’ Day hoax. By adding the image of a police officer and amending the bio to read: “I monitor trolls and tell the truth on Twitter,” the phoney account was formed by editing the profile of genuine Reuters journalist Maxim Rodionov. If you see anything suspicious in an inbox, please let me know.
Reports in some Russian media outlets even suggested that the new Twitter officer would impose “trolling fines” of up to 3,000 rubles (about $50) on offenders.
Twitterati were divided on whether or not the joke was funny. At least one user, @navalny, made an allusion to the “Orwellian” reality of life in Russia, where the Kremlin is infamous for stifling dissent and free speech, in their interpretation of the joke.
Even if you didn’t find the joke funny, you have to admit that Twitterrodionov was a very ingenious method to get people talking about how the Russian government is stifling free speech on 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.
Russia often uses Twitter as a means of spreading false information. It was recently uncovered that an organization with ties to the Russian government called the Internet Research Agency (IRA) created hundreds of fake Twitter accounts with the express purpose of spreading disinformation and inciting unrest during the election.
The IRA didn’t only make up Twitter profiles, they also paid for promotion there. Twitter has confirmed that it made $274,100 from advertising for the IRA’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The extent to which the Russian government’s social media effort affected the election is unknown. There is a good chance that the Russian government will keep using Twitter to spread propaganda in the future, given the service’s prominence as one of the most popular social media sites globally.
Dissension in the United States and how Russians used social media to fan the flames
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was motivated by a desire to create discord. They spread false information and created a ruckus on Twitter and other social media sites.
In April 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russia was using Twitter to inflame tensions in the United States. Using Twitter, the Russian government allegedly pushed disinformation and sowed political discord among American voters, as reported by the Journal.
Aiming to “amplify political turmoil in the United States,” Russian officials reportedly planned this operation.
The Russians were successful in their mission by establishing fake Twitter accounts representing prominent Americans in politics and American organizations. They used these accounts to send tweets to certain political parties.
Some of the messages were evidently designed to stir up strife between Americans. The target of several of these attacks was the public’s trust in the United States government or the media.
The WSJ reports that the Russians’ Twitter campaign was “extremely successful,” reaching “tens of millions” of Americans.
The findings of the Journal were corroborated by an analysis conducted by the United States’ intelligence community, which concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to sow discord in the United States.
Government operatives in Russia allegedly utilized social media to “amplify hostility” in the United States.
Twitter claims it is taking action to limit the spread of fake news. Over 2,700 Internet Research Agency of Russia-related accounts were removed in September 2018.
Twitter’s actions are welcomed, but more has to be done to counter Russian efforts to create divisiveness in the United States through the platform.
Here’s why Twitter let Russia off the hook
Twitter has been criticized for its possible role in facilitating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The social media site’s adversaries said that Facebook did not do enough to prevent Russian hackers from using the site to spread disinformation and incite unrest.
Twitter has defended itself by saying it is taking steps to prevent foreign interference in elections and is always improving its security.
Others, though, argue that Russia was successful in its engagement because Twitter was hesitant to take preventive measures.
What has to change so that Russia doesn’t use Twitter to influence elections?
The United States’ intelligence agencies conclude that Russian interference helped elect Donald Trump as president in 2016. Twitter has become a major center for Russian propaganda and disinformation, despite assertions to the contrary from the Kremlin.
After the presidential election of 2016, Twitter instituted measures to limit Russian activity and access. It’s clear that more work has to be done in the future to prevent Russia (or any other country) from using Twitter to influence elections.
When it comes to sensitive topics like election tampering, Twitter needs to strengthen its content filters.