OTTAWA — An analysis of more than six million tweets and retweets — and where they came from — has revealed that Canada is being targeted by Russia to sway public opinion here.
The University of Calgary School of Public Policy study found that a large number of tweets and retweets about the war in Ukraine can be traced back to Russia and China, with even more tweets expressing pro sentiment. -Russian in the United States.
Assistant Professor Jean-Christophe Boucher said in an interview that the Russian “state apparatus” is associated with many accounts that tweet in Canada and influences which posts are retweeted, liked or repeated over and over again by different accounts.
The tweets usually express pro-Russian talking points, including that Ukraine is a fascist state or that NATO wants to expand, which poses a threat to Russia.
The University of Calgary team of experts analyzed 6.2 million tweets from around the world and applied algorithms to trace their origins.
He profiled accounts tweeting and retweeting remarks including key terms associated with the war in Ukraine. A location filter was applied to narrow it down to tweets associated with Canadian Twitter profiles.
The team then linked accounts and mapped online conversations about the war.
Algorithms identified clusters and top influencers in Canada and abroad promoting pro-Russian narratives.
He found in the “Canadian Twitter ecosystem” discussing the war, about 25% of accounts were broadcasting pro-Russian talking points.
Boucher warned that some stories were “Trojan horses,” with some Canadians unaware that pro-Putin stories trace back to Russia, China or right-wing influencers in the United States.
Analysis of the content of the tweets revealed similar pro-Russian views expressed among right-wing figures and their supporters in the United States and Canada, he said.
He said supporters of the “Freedom Convoy” and the anti-vaccine movement, some of whom may not realize they digested messages from Russia, also tweeted messages in favor of the invasion of Ukraine.
Many tweets in pro-Russian conversations on social media also express distrust of institutions and “a specific distrust of the Liberal government of Canada, and in particular Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau”, according to the report.
Boucher said “foreign interference in Canada’s information space” is now so widespread that it sows distrust in Canada’s democratic institutions, including the federal government and the mainstream media.
“Social media has increasingly been able to shape people’s opinions. It weakens our democratic resilience,” he said. “It creates dissent and erodes trust in institutions.”
He said that although foreign bots are used to spread misinformation on social media, their role is often exaggerated.
Influencers with millions of followers – including in the US – had a wider reach on Twitter than bots and “retweet and amplify Russian narratives”.
The academic discovered that American influencers were tweeting pro-Russian remarks. Some of these messages were, in turn, retweeted by accounts associated with the Russian state.
Boucher said that since the study was completed, his team had collected an additional four million tweets about the war in Ukraine, bringing the total to 10 million tweets, and the number was growing.
Boucher said the “pathway of influence” of many pro-Russian tweets goes back to accounts “associated with Russia, including the Russian state apparatus.”
He said “Russian accounts retweet and amplify” pro-Russian tweets in the United States and elsewhere.
“We have the state apparatus in Russia and China promoting propaganda.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 8, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press