A screenshot of the light blue Twitter bird logo on a darker blue square. It is on a smartphone. Below it is the word "Twitter". Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Twitter banned over 100 accounts that pushed the #IStandWithPutin hashtag on March 3, 2022. Unfortunately, the hashtag has reappeared.

When I first noticed the #IStandWithPutin hashtag, it confused me. Why were people tweeting support for Russian President Putin when he was the one who started a war with Ukraine? The vast majority of accounts – from personal accounts, to brand accounts, were clearly supporting Ukraine. It didn’t make sense.

Norton posted some useful information on its website about 7 ways to recognize a Twitter bot:

  • IP correlation – the geographical location of Twitter accounts
  • Time-based correlation – the release of tweets in close proximity
  • Automation – when an account tweets short replies that appear automated
  • Content similarity – when the same content is tweeted at the same time
  • Account creation – Twitter bots with recent creation dates
  • Account description – when an account looks automated because the username contains numbers. Also, it appears anonymous in the absence of a photo, biography, or profile description.
  • Account activity – when a bot follows a lot of accounts but does not have many followers, and it’s retweeting and tweeting content faster than a human could.

Some of this matches what I saw as I was looking at the hashtag (and blocking the accounts using it who appeared to be spreading propaganda). Many of those tweets were located in India, and some were located in Africa.

All of these accounts were active while the majority of the United States was asleep. If the goal was to somehow influence Americans to support Putin – they really missed their mark.

There were several accounts that only tweeted the hashtag. Many lacked a profile or a banner. I’m absolutely certain I saw the same images/artwork being used over and over again by several accounts in the hashtag. Eventually, some of those accounts stuffed three or four of those images into one tweet. Based on this, it is clear that many of those using the hashtag were, in fact, bots.

Others, however, were not bots. These were the accounts of real people who came in to debunk or counter the propaganda. They all had interesting avatars, and a name that did not have a bunch of numbers attached. Unfortunately, there were some accounts that also were not bots… but who chose to spread the hashtag.

Eventually, when I noticed that the pushback against the accounts using the hashtag had been vastly outnumbered by the accounts of real people, I realized that the propaganda had been squelched. I returned to my Twitter account and reported the hashtag (which was, at the moment, in the “What’s Happening” section) and reported it.

On March 4, 2021, NBC News posted an article titled: “Twitter bans over 100 accounts that pushed #IStandWithPutin”. From the article:

Twitter has banned more than 100 accounts that pushed the pro-Russian hashtag #IStandWithPutin for participating in “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” days after the hashtag trended on Twitter amid the invasion in Ukraine.

A Twitter spokesperson said on Friday that it is still investigating the origins and links between the accounts, and that it banned the accounts for violating its “platform manipulation and spam policy”.

The accounts with the most retweets about the hashtag had on Wednesday had only a few dozen followers and used stock photos as profile pictures, which led disinformation researchers to question how the tweets went viral…

…It’s failed attempt at building support on Twitter is the latest illustration of a Russian propaganda ware that’s fallen flat in the West. Since the invasion, the Kremlin has struggled to penetrate new barriers imposed on digital platforms and advance an anti-Ukraine narrative. On newer platforms, such as TikTok, pro-Ukraine content has dominated…

NBC News

Shortly before I started writing this blog post, I noticed that the infamous hashtag had returned. This time, there wasn’t nearly as much participation in it. The hashtag was not among the “What’s Happening?” topics this time, so it didn’t have as much reach as it did the first time around.

Based on all of this, it appears that the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign is failing on Twitter. Recently, Google suspended ads in Russia (which includes YouTube and search and display marketing in Russia). TikTok created a State-Controlled media policy, to bring more context to what people viewed on its platform.

Amazon suspended a shipment of retail products to customers based in Russia and Belarus, and will no longer be accepting new Russian and Belarus-based AWS customers and Amazon third-party sellers. It also suspended Prime Video for customers in Russia, and will no longer take orders for their New World game, which Amazon said is the only video game they sell in Russia.

Twitch posted information on “Preventing Harmful Misinformation Actors on Twitch”, which will be enforced against actors whose online presence (on or off Twitch) is dedicated to: (1) persistently sharing (2) widely disproven and broadly shared (3) harmful misinformation topics, such as conspiracies that promote violence.

In addition, there are several gaming companies who have blocked people in Russia from having access to their games and/or are refusing to allow them to make new accounts for those games or to buy a copy. PlayStation and Microsoft suspended sales of their consoles in Russia.

Anyone who has played a game that includes the chat from other players in it has likely seen some absolutely terrible, politically motivated, harassment happening. I think the measures taken by gaming companies will help stem the tide of propaganda coming from Russia.

Twitter Banned Accounts Tweeting Propaganda is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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