Russia is the leading promoter of disinformation, according to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) that analyzed public Twitter datasets. Iran, China, and Venezuela also ranked high in the March 30 report, Understanding Global Disinformation and Information Operations.
The study analyzed Twitter messages sent by state actors of various countries between October 2018 and March 2021. The think tank’s researchers analyzed the activities and content of Twitter-banned accounts within 90 days of an account previous tweet.
Russia ranked first in disinformation; the studied banned accounts were linked both directly and indirectly to the state, such as the account of the Russian Internet Research Agency, the report indicated. The banned profiles disseminated information that mostly mentioned the United States. The content of these messages consisted of efforts to undermine NATO, discredit candidates in U.S. and European elections, and attack Ukraine, among other topics. The study further highlights that “Russian operations amplified content from Russian state-linked media and operated across social media platforms. Russian assets impersonated media outlets, politicians, activists, government agencies, and other organizations.”
Iran, on the other hand, which came in second place, sought to stir political division and encourage unrest in adversary states, while also amplifying content related to social divisions in the United States. Twitter, ASPI recalled, is banned in Iran.
Concerning China, where Twitter is also banned, the ASPI report highlights that accounts linked to the Chinese state generally sought to influence the attitudes of Chinese diaspora communities and foreign citizens on domestic and foreign policy issues. The main disinformation campaigns focused in the Hong Kong protests; COVID-19, with the United States being represented as having mismanaged the pandemic; and the 2020 elections in Taiwan, among other topics.
In a March report, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a foreign policy advocacy group, indicated that Chinese diplomats refrained from using the terms “invasion” or “war” to describe Russian aggression in Ukraine. Between February 24 and March 12, Chinese diplomatic and government accounts used more neutral terms such as “issue” (345 mentions) and “situation” (252 mentions) to describe the invasion of Ukraine.
In a December 2021 report, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University highlighted what Twitter dubs political spam operations in support of the Venezuelan regime. “According to Twitter, financial compensation may have been offered to accounts for sufficient engagement in bolstering Maduro’s messaging,” the Freeman Spogli Institute said. In the ASPI research, the findings were similar, with tweets amplifying content supportive of the Maduro regime. “They [campaigns] also targeted political activists and expressed support for the Venezuelan military,” the report stated.