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TematicheRussia e Spazio Post-sovieticoWhy do Kremlin bots need Jennifer Aniston? Russia's disinformation...

Why do Kremlin bots need Jennifer Aniston? Russia’s disinformation attack on the eve of the peace summit

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Following the conclusion of the pan-European elections and in response to the end of the G7 summit, Russia once again targeted the electorate of European countries with one of the most massive information attacks on the night of June 15, 2024. This action, on the one hand, demonstrates the Kremlin’s dissatisfaction with the results of the EU elections and the level of attention given to Ukraine at the summit in Italy. Anticipating the peace summit in Switzerland, it was an attempt to influence public opinion within european Countries and North America, mainly through the creation of fakes involving globally known celebrities.

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Автоматически созданное описание

Among the significant figures whose images were used to spread Russian propaganda, there were representatives from various fields of interest and socio-political groups, allowing them to cover multiple target audiences. For example, using Elton John, there was an attempt to spread disinformation among Britons and music lovers, particularly his fans, suggesting that even someone whose values lie in human rights and democracy is not ready to support Ukraine. 

Изображение выглядит как текст, Человеческое лицо, очки, одежда

Автоматически созданное описание

It’s worth noting that one doesn’t need to be an expert in English to notice rather unusual lexical turns and awkward grammatical constructions. This suggests that those creating and distributing these fake posters did not have a good command of English. Most likely, it was a literal translation from Russian to English using AI. The active use of AI in disinformation leads to a new threat: the spread of deepfakes, which today can only be analyzed by specialized analytical laboratories, and there is currently no roadmap on how to protect users from such a flow of false information.

Then we see a poster featuring Jennifer Aniston, an attempt to influence public opinion in the US and globally, since she is an internationally known and beloved actress who not only advocates for women’s rights but also actively supported the rights of Ukrainian women in 2022. Among the celebrities used during the attack were Angelina Jolie, Lionel Messi, Scarlett Johansson, Taylor Swift, and others. By doing so, Kremlin bots attempt to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of ordinary people through the viral spread of fake statements from significant figures. This method is undoubtedly productive, especially if people lack theoretical knowledge about false information on the internet and the skills to identify disinformation and verify this information.

Изображение выглядит как текст, Человеческое лицо, женщина, снимок экрана

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Изображение

Basically, the platform X (formerly known as Twitter) has become a favorite place for Russian trolls because this social network has better and faster tools and algorithms for spreading information and less oversight by moderators. Therefore, we more often see examples of voluntary dissemination of disinformation and state-approved Russian propaganda by real influencers. A screenshot shows a recently published post on the official page of Jackson Hinkle, a political commentator from the US, where he claims that heroes are fighting in Donbas to liberate Russian lands from Ukraine, which is fundamentally false and contradicts basic truths and any moral norms.

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The next screenshot shows a post with over 3 million views sharing a link to an interview with the father of Elon Musk. The post does not specify under what initiative the interview was recorded, making it a good example of how information (true or false) from an account with a large following will be spread immediately and seen by millions. This raises serious concerns today. What should motivate the fight against aggressive disinformation is precisely the scale of such influence.

Изображение выглядит как текст, Человеческое лицо, одежда, снимок экрана

Автоматически созданное описание

The attack of June 14-15 is notable not so much for its semantic load, as the narrative actively promoted by Russian media and Kremlin bots during the preparation for the pan-European elections was further developed: the economic damage to EU countries from sanctions against Russia, the fatigue of the European economy from supporting Ukraine, accusations of Ukrainians supporting Nazi ideology, etc. In this sense, there is nothing new in terms of content. However, considering Russian disinformation as an infrastructure, its scale today should be alarming, as in just one day on one social network, X (formerly Twitter), they managed to mobilize over 120.000 accounts to spread disinformation narratives. 120.000 accounts, if we imagine that each account represents a separate person, this is an entire medium-sized city ready to perform tasks in the information war immediately.

Moreover, pro-Russian media also joined this attack, publishing provocative materials. Among such materials, the thesis that Ukraine is to blame for prolonging the conflict due to its refusal to sign a peace agreement has regained popularity. The only attempt to discuss a peace agreement was initiated by Ukraine at the beginning of the military actions (winter-spring 2022), but during the negotiations, Russia expressed its claims to a third of the country without offering any guarantees to the Ukrainian side and not stopping military actions even during the negotiations. As a result, the peace agreement was compromised.

This scale reflects only a smaller part of the capabilities of the Russian disinformation infrastructure in influencing public opinion and political decisions within EU countries. Russian bots are also actively present on other social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. If it seems that disinformation narratives are not sophisticated and deep, and therefore the influence of these attacks is not high, this is a fundamentally false position. Each type of Russian disinformation is aimed at a specific target audience. By choosing the simplest and most deceitful semantic models, Kremlin bots lose the interest of the critically thinking part of the audience, which is most often associated with the younger generation, but instead target the average middle-aged person who does not have the skills not only to check information but also the idea of the need to verify information found on the internet or social networks. But it is this demographic group that is inclined to discuss the read information, share it with friends and family, and involuntarily invest in spreading disinformation.

When discussing Russia’s disinformation infrastructure, it is always important to understand that each specific narrative has a target audience, and if this narrative does not seem plausible to one group of people, it may be true for another group depending on their values and the format of information presentation. In particular, the use of social networks, more commonly known as “youth” ones, by Russian actors and designers of Russia’s disinformation strategy is a very good example of such a “targeted approach”. Thus, on TikTok social network, the Russian government invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing a farm of young bloggers and influencers who spread propaganda narratives among children and teenagers in both Russian and English. This raises the question not only about the resilience of democratic institutions and the impact of disinformation on public opinion but also the problem of children’s safety when they become the target of disinformation and propaganda attacks.

This review demonstrates how serious and organized a disinformation campaign conducted by Russian actors can be. The use of globally known celebrities and a targeted approach to different demographic groups shows a high degree of strategic planning. The increasing use of AI and social networks to spread fakes presents a new threat that needs to be addressed by strengthening fact-checking measures and raising the level of information literacy among the population. It is important to understand that such campaigns aim to undermine trust in democratic institutions and destabilize public opinion, requiring a comprehensive approach to neutralize them.

Sources

  1. Network flooded with posts with fake quotes of stars about Ukraine, https://www.dw.com/ru/set-navodnili-posty-s-fejkovymi-citatami-zvezd-pro-ukrainu/a-69374511?maca=rus-Red-Telegram-dwglavnoe
  2.  Before the peace summit, Russian bots published thousands of posts on behalf of Jennifer Aniston and Scarlett Johansson with fake quotes about Ukraine – media, https://gordonua.com/news/worldnews/rossijskie-boty-pered-sammitom-mira-opublikovali-tysjachi-postov-ot-imeni-dzhenifer-eniston-i-skarlett-jokhanson-s-fejkovymi-tsitatami-pro-ukrainu-smi-1710564.html
  3. Kremlin bots spam internet with fake celebrity quotes against Ukraine, https://kyivindependent.com/kremlin-bots-spam-internet-with-fake-celebrity-quotes-against-ukraine/ 
  4. How a Russian Operative Worked to Shape Moscow’s Story in Europe, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-06-11/how-a-russian-operative-worked-to-shape-moscow-s-story-in-europe?srnd=homepage-europe
  5. Jackson Hinkle, 20.06.2024, https://x.com/jacksonhinklle/status/1803580932978627067
  6. Agenstvo.Multimedia, https://t.me/agentstvomedia/368 
  7. https://x.com/wogoa1/status/1802074586823229771
  8. https://x.com/sergeenko_i/status/1802130866568626364/photo/1
  9. https://x.com/aidefranceukr/status/1802292860860993954

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