Russia-Linked Tweets on Brexit Were Minimal, Finds Oxford Study

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Just 105 Russia-linked Twitter accounts posted about Brexit in the run-up to the referendum on membership of the European Union (EU), researchers at Oxford University have found in news that comes hot on the heels of revelations that Russian Twitter accounts spent less than £1 on targeted advertising in the run up to the vote.

In the first half of 2016, the social media platform averaged 310 million monthly active users, and the Oxford Internet Institute “stress[ed] that the number of accounts it had found was not significant,” the Financial Times reports.

The 105 accounts posted less than 16,000 times in two separate weeks ahead of the June 2016 vote, and it is not possible to know how many people even viewed or took note of the messages.

“We’ve tried to collect accounts from very different sources,” explained Vidya Narayanan, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s computational propaganda project.

“It is important that we have found there seems to not be much Russian activism with Brexit,” she added.

Claims about “Russian propaganda” have been made by many anti-Brexit campaigners and activists, who allege the vote was interfered with and should, therefore, be rerun or ignored.

Yet this narrative is quickly falling apart.

The Oxford study comes less than a week after it was reported that just one Russian account spent money promoting tweets in the six weeks before the referendum, purchasing just six adverts.

It is already known that Russia-linked accounts also tweeted out anti-Brexit, pro-Remain messages, and Facebook has said pro-Brexit accounts spent just 73 pence on ads linked to the referendum on their platform.

Responding to an investigation by the Electoral Commission on the 13th of this month, Facebook said that the secretive, Russia-linked Internet Research Agency had paid them less than £1.

“This amount resulted in three advertisements (each of which were also targeted to US audiences and concerned immigration, not the EU referendum) delivering approximately 200 impressions to UK viewers over four days in May 2016,” they explained in a letter.

Other accounts allegedly found to be “Russian bots” by the mainstream media have turned out to be normal, British people.

In November, Byline Media claimed to have identified a Russia-linked account. However, the account’s operator was later tracked down by The Scotsman and was revealed to be a security guard from Glasgow who simply liked to tweet about Brexit during his shifts.


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