Russians celebrate their fake successes: when trolls poison the US debate

This article first appeared on ntv.

Russians celebrate their fake successes: when trolls poison the US debate

This article first appeared on

Russian troll factories boast that their fake news campaigns are far more successful in the US than they are perceived in the West. With hundreds of thousands of fake online accounts, Russian operators are spreading disinformation about the Ukrainian military and side effects of vaccinations. That's according to the Discord leaks that leaked US intelligence information to the public last week.

Only one percent of Russian fake accounts are exposed, according to the Russian side, according to a report by the Washington Post, which has evaluated other secret documents of the leaks. "This number is fictitious," is the assessment of defense expert Sönke Marahrens, but he sees great potential for the spread of disinformation in the United States in particular, since freedom of expression is considered a particularly valuable asset in American society. A government action against disinformation would therefore very quickly be criticized as influencing freedom of expression.

"The goal of Russian disinformation is not that some user with a Russian-sounding name makes the false claims, but that the statements are linked to an American name," says Marahrens, who conducts research at the European Center of Excellence for Combating Hybrid Threats in Helsinki. It appears as the position of a fictitious US citizen exercising their right to freedom of expression.

While in Europe the media view of the Russian war of aggression has so far been shaped by information from Ukraine, this is not the case in the USA. The disinformation is now also being driven by many voices who, for political reasons, want to distance themselves from the clear commitment of Democratic President Joe Biden to Ukraine. From their ranks, the Russian view is now increasingly supported.

"For this reason, it has been proven that radio and television channels, especially from the spectrum of alternative rights, broadcast formats from Russian disinformation - because they may fit into the political concept," says Marahrens in an interview with "As a state agency, how do you intend to counteract this without being suspected of censorship?"

The accusation of censorship is quickly made - several Republican members of Congress as well as Elon Musk, who has been Twitter boss since autumn 2022, accuse the democratic US government of too often defaming social media accounts as Russian fake accounts. In this way, independent views would be suppressed.

According to the Washington Post, independent research and platform employees confirm that aggressive campaigns have increased since Musk took over Twitter. A short time later, the multi-billionaire began to cut back on several moderation teams that focused on disinformation and hate speech. Instead, artificial intelligence is mainly used to block dangerous and problematic content. As a result, threats and verbal abuse can now linger longer before being removed, if at all.

Even the verification system introduced by Twitter, which has to be paid for, is not a safe barrier against disinformation. According to the results of the Reset research group, Russian propaganda channels have repeatedly managed to buy the blue tick, which is supposed to confirm the seriousness of a source, for fake accounts. Tweets from accounts marked with a blue tick should be given a higher reach on Twitter.

The manipulators behind the artificial accounts, so-called "trolls", are not necessarily concerned with enforcing opposing opinions. It is already enough to destroy an objective discussion through aggressive reactions, insults and mass posting, to sow doubts, to poison the mood. Posting activity well above average, a new account with few followers can be a sign of a troll.

According to Marahrens, it is necessary for democratic societies to develop further in dealing with disinformation. Schools should educate children about how to deal with fake news and make it clear that not everything that is claimed on the internet is automatically true, says Marahrens. "Schools are security providers."