Experts at the German Foreign Ministry have identified systematic disinformation campaigns in favor of Russia on Twitter (X), and the government is concerned about a possible interference in the elections in the future.
Spiegel reported this, citing a non-public report by analysts from the Department of Strategic Communications of the German Foreign Ministry, who used special software to study a huge amount of data on Twitter between December 20 and January 20.
During that month, the analysts found more than 50,000 accounts that clearly did not belong to real people and were involved in coordinated information campaigns in German. On some days, these bots posted about 200,000 tweets per day. It is noticeable that their activity decreases on weekends and days that are public holidays in Russia.
Among these posts, the narrative that Germany is neglecting the interests of its population in order to support Ukraine is very common: first-person bots write that they “think it’s strange that the government does more for other countries than its citizens.”
At the same time, it seems that the coordinators of this campaign are “hitting the target” of the discontent that some Germans have and trying to inflate it. Experts believe that the goal of the campaign is to incite discontent among Germans and undermine confidence in the government, the democratic system, and the media.
The Kremlin-style influence campaign aimed at attacking German assistance to Ukraine and spreading the narrative of “Ukraine’s defeat” and “the invasion of Ukrainian refugees.”
Analysts at the Foreign Ministry believe that Russia is behind the campaign and that it has been going on since 2022, when Putin started the all-out war against Ukraine.
There is growing concern in the ministry that such massive work on the platform through bots could have a real impact on the upcoming elections, both to the European Parliament and to the three federal states.
Analysts express particular concern that a significant portion of the campaign seems to rely on full automation—bots from a large group of accounts posting tweets simultaneously and at a consistent pace, creating the perception of algorithmic control.
In addition, the campaign coordinators have repeatedly created a fake source in order to use bots to spread the necessary tweets to a large audience.
In September, campaign coordinators shared a screenshot of a trend allegedly from Annalena Baerbock’s real page, claiming that “the war in Ukraine will end in three months.” The use of a template from the Russian-language interface exposed the fakers, revealing that the trend had been photoshopped.
Bots distribute non-existent news and articles on a large scale by faking messages in reputable media. Fraudsters create fake websites that accurately mimic the interface of reputable media outlets and even use the names of journalists to spread false news. The only thing that gives them away is their domain address, and bots spread a shortened link so that vigilant people don’t see it right away.
Despite the eventual banning of some accounts, many of them continue to operate successfully.
The findings were shared with the specialized European center “EU vs. Disinfo.”.
The EU’s top diplomat recently said that the 2024 elections are a major target for disinformation and foreign interference.
The United States also believes that Russia will conduct information operations to turn public opinion against Ukraine before the elections to the European Parliament in June in various European countries.