TikTok blocks Russian bots network that spread in EU propaganda about war in Ukraine

The Chinese company TikTok has blocked the largest network of bots from Russia that spread propaganda about Russia’s war against Ukraine among European citizens, Bloomberg reports, with reference to the company’s report to the European Union.

According to the report, the bots created in Russia disguised themselves as European users and published content on the war in Ukraine in German, English, and Italian, using speech synthesis programs. The publications promoted a pro-Russian position.

In total, the company blocked 1686 such accounts. The propaganda network, according to the report, operated from July to September 2022. These accounts had more than 133 thousand subscribers.

In addition, TikTok has restricted access to 18 accounts from Georgia that “pretended to be news agencies” and disseminated information in support of the war of aggression against Ukraine. These accounts targeted Russian-speaking audiences in Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine.

Unfortunately, the company did not provide any comments or evidence regarding the network’s connection to the Russian government. However, the spread of pro-Russian narratives in the EU is beneficial to Russia. 

“We don’t allow activities that may undermine the integrity of our platform or the authenticity of our users,” a TikTok spokesperson told Bloomberg. “The fact that these networks and related accounts were quickly identified and removed is a testament to the considerable resources we have invested in protecting our community from being misled.”

By the end of January, TikTok and other social media platforms were asked to submit voluntary reports on how they combat misinformation in Europe. The codes are tied to the EU’s new content moderation laws, the Digital Services Act.

On Thursday, those reports were released for the first time. Every six months, large companies will release new reports.

However, considering the Chinese origin of the social platform, there are reasonable suspicions that the social platform may not only collect user data and transfer it to the Chinese government but also act as a platform for spreading Chinese propaganda. 

In turn, this is just one of the dozens or hundreds of cases of coordinated Russian information campaigns to spread propaganda abroad. And while it is easier to counter official Russian propaganda nowadays by blocking Russian TV channels RT, Sputnik, etc., countering bot networks on social platforms is more difficult. 

In response, TikTok worked with local fact-checkers to create guidelines for its content moderation team to identify and remove videos with misinformation and the accounts that share them. The company also made moves including adding a label to accounts known to be owned by state-controlled media and blocked livestreams from users in Russia and Ukraine from being shown to users in EU countries.

Recently, Insight News reported that Putin’s “chef” and head of a private military company Wagner, admitted that he was responsible for the creation and operation of a Russian troll factory that carried out coordinated information attacks and interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.

Also, a week ago it was reported that, according to the EU, Russia has become a “world leader” in the dissemination of propaganda.

According to the 2022 report on disinformation and manipulation of facts in the global information space, published by the European External Action Service (EEAS), the level of threat posed by Russian (and Russia-friendly) propaganda has reached the point where the EU is forced to prepare to respond.

Therefore, European diplomacy chief Josep Borrell announced EU plans to create an innovative platform to counter Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns. The EU has been forced to implement new measures in this regard by the fact that EU institutions and missions abroad have recently been increasingly targeted by Russian disinformation.

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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