The Kremlin’s troll network never sleeps – here’s how they spread their message in Hungary
October 28. 2022. – 01:52 PM
According to recent research conducted by Political Capital, the Russian online troll network that was set in motion at the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war continues to operate by spreading so-called "repetitive comments" in Germany, Italy, Romania and Hungary – among other countries – aiming to legitimize the war, Political Capital reports.
The organization's research in May had already proven the existence of a presumably coordinated "online troll network". The research confirmed that the work of trolls operating in multiple shifts to copy-paste the same comments continues to appear under a wide variety of Facebook posts, spreading Kremlin disinformation to users who would never think of reading anything about the war.
The research identified so-called repetitive comments in Facebook comment sections. Researchers at Political Capital used the SentiOne online monitoring platform to collect databases of relevant comments published on Facebook between 25 February and 31 July 2022 in the countries studied. They then used programmed text mining tools to identify repetitive comments, i.e. comments that are at least five words long and repeated at least 200 times.
Recent research has found that "pro-Russian trolls have consistently spread the same 3-4 narratives to justify the war, which were most intensively spread between 24 and 28 February (the first days of the war)".
These narratives are:
- "Ukraine as a state does not exist": although Ukraine's independence was recognised by Russia as early as August 1991, the first narrative argues that Ukraine does not really have borders and that, as Russia is the successor to the Soviet Union, it can do what it wants on the territory of the former Soviet republics.
- "Ukraine has committed genocide" against minorities in Ukraine: Ukraine has committed genocide against minorities on its territory, especially against the Russian or Russian-speaking population, which justifies and legitimises Russia's military action conducted in defence of these minorities.
- "Ukraine is run by a troupe of actors": Ukraine is not run by a real government, but by a "troupe of actors" composed mainly of US citizens. This narrative is more recent than the others, it was only published on 8 March. It was copied at least 460 times in the Facebook comment sections during the period under review, and it is spread in India, Africa and South America as well, in addition to the four countries in question.
- "NATO wanted to set up a military base near the Black Sea": this narrative first appeared in Hungary on 25 February and almost disappeared after about a week. In total, Hungarian Facebook users still saw these misleading claims in at least 1107 comments.
The organization's researchers found that there was almost no overlap in the posting patterns of the most active disseminators, suggesting non-organic activity, meaning that it is very likely that trolls were posting in coordinated, sequential "shifts". Additionally, some of the Facebook profiles spreading the narratives appear to be inherently fake due to alternate profile names, stock images, different languages or posting behaviour," they write.
According to the researchers, most of these narratives do not originate from Hungary.
Two of the most common ones ("Ukraine does not exist", "Ukrainian theatre company") were linked to influence campaigns abroad, and one of the most common ones originated from an organization of a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch.
In addition, the narrative of "genocide", which is most characteristic in Hungarian media space, has clearly adopted a disinformation campaign from Russia into the Hungarian media space. And both pro-Russian sites and individuals, as well as trolls with fake or hacked profiles are playing a role in spreading the message in Hungary.
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