Russian hacking, Russian disinformation, social media, fake news, Syria | Homeland Security Newswire

The Russia connectionThe Syria swarm: How pro-Kremlin accounts influence Western public opinion

By Bret Schafer

Published 4 May 2018

As the United States, Britain, and France launched targeted airstrikes against suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria on 13 April, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis predicted that there would be “a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime.” Mattis was right.

As the United States, Britain, and France launched targeted airstrikes against suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria on 13 April, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis predicted that there would be “a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime.”

Data collected by Hamilton 68, an online dashboard that tracks the messaging of roughly 600 Russian-linked accounts, revealed a significant spike in pro-Kremlin activity in the aftermath of the strike, lending credence to Mattis’ prediction. On 14 April, accounts monitored on Hamilton 68 tweeted 32,083 times, a 35 percent increase from the day before and an 85 percent increase from the previous Saturday. While this increase was far less than the “2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls” noted by the Pentagon,[1] it was the most activity recorded in any 24-hour period during the previous 30 days, and one of the most active days of posting since the launch of the dashboard in August 2017. The surge in activity was notable not only for its volume but also its focus. The day after the strikes, #Syria was by far the most-used hashtag by monitored accounts, and seven of the ten most linked-to URLs on Hamilton 68 focused on either the allied campaign or the chemical weapons attack in Douma. Also of note were the two most linked-to domains: Kremlin-funded outlets RT and Sputnik.