#propaganda #socialmedia #bots
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was accompanied by practices of information warfare, yet existing evidence is largely anecdotal while large-scale empirical evidence is lacking. Here, we analyze the spread of pro-Russian support on social media. For this, we collected messages from Twitter with pro-Russian support. Our findings suggest that pro-Russian messages received ∼251,000 retweets and thereby reached around 14.4 million users. We further provide evidence that bots played a disproportionate role in the dissemination of pro-Russian messages and amplified its proliferation in early-stage diffusion. Countries that abstained from voting on the United Nations Resolution ES-11/1 such as India, South Africa, and Pakistan showed pronounced activity of bots. Overall, 20.28% of the spreaders are classified as bots, most of which were created at the beginning of the invasion. Together, our findings suggest the presence of a large-scale Russian propaganda campaign on social media and highlight the new threats to society that originate from it. Our results also suggest that curbing bots may be an effective strategy to mitigate such campaigns.