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Conflict in Ukraine: Canadian social media targeted by structured disinformation

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This is the conclusion of an extensive study (New window) (in English) published Wednesday by researchers at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

Authors Jean-Christophe Boucher, Jack Edwards, Jenny Kim, Abbas Badami and Henry Smith have published a report that examines more than 6.2 million messages posted on Twitter around the world since January 2022.

The method employed for the analysis of the social network Twitter uses artificial intelligence to monitor, examine and measure the scope and nature of pro-Russian disinformation and influence on social media in Canada.

A dark-haired man smiles.

Researcher at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary Jean-Christophe Boucher believes that the Canadian government must take concrete measures to counter propaganda, in all its forms, on social networks.

Photo: Jean-Christophe Boucher

According to Jean-Christophe Boucher, co-author of the report, Canada is targeted for its role in international sanctions against Russiaand if Canada is to successfully meet the challenge of this foreign interference, it is important to better understand the disinformation being spread.

Identification of accounts

Data in two tables.

Top accounts in vectors influenced by accounts domiciled in the United States and Russia are shown in Tables 1 and 2, respectively. The numbers represent the degree of interaction of a publisher (top) account owned by top influencers American or Canadian right-wingers such as Tulsi Gabbard, Jack Posobiec, Candace Owens, Rex Glacer or Maxime Bernier with other relay accounts, which retweet.

Photo: /TurnedNews.com / MARIE MOUNIER

Based on algorithmic mapping of the Twitter network, researchers identified the top influencers who create and spread propaganda stories.

The approach consists of tracing the links between accounts, Twitter messages and retweets using the same keywords, in different languages ​​(Russia, Ukraine, NATOPycc, Росій, Укра, HATO), which are associated with the current conflict in Ukraine and often appear in these publications.

The researchers also analyze people’s reaction to these publications.

This method not only helps trace Twitter accounts that are more associated with Russian propaganda, but also demonstrates that Russian propaganda on the Canadian Twitter network was, to a large extent, driven by two major groups of influencers, such as the show researchers from the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

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On the one hand, accounts influenced by sources from the United States; on the other hand, accounts that are largely influenced by international sources from Russia, Europe and Chinaexplains Jean-Christophe Boucher.

According to the data collected, profiles influenced by accounts from the United States accounted for approximately 56% of pro-Russian communities. Profiles influenced by Russia made up the remaining 44%.

It is thanks to artificial intelligence that we are able to classify these keywords, read them and read the millions of tweets and classify them. We are able, with algorithms, to identify very specifically what kind of discourse, what kind of arguments Russian propaganda is trying to develop to defend and justify its invasion of Ukraine. »

A quote from Jean-Christophe Boucher, from the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary

Three great narratives to build Russian propaganda

Chart of the prevalence of the narrative justifying the invasion of Ukraine as a response to NATO expansionism.

The frequency of narratives developed by pro-Russian profiles during the period immediately preceding and following the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows the prevalence of the narrative justifying the invasion as a response to NATO expansionism.

Photo: /TurnedNews.com / MARIE MOUNIER

Examining the prevalence of pro-Russian narratives widely relayed on Canadian social media has identified three major narratives, developed simultaneously, to condone the Russian invasion of Ukraine and influence Canadian public opinion towards this war, says Jean-Christophe Boucher.

According to the results of the analysis of the received data, the first pro-Russian speech is focused on the role and actions of theNATO and its member states. Thus, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is held responsible for the conflict, suggesting that the invasion of Russia was the result of the expansionism of theNATO or its aggressive intentions towards Russia.

In this context, pro-Russian propaganda claims that the West does not have the moral right to condemn the invasion and that countries such as Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are trying to force Europe into in this conflict to gain material advantage.

The second misconception on the web insinuates that Ukraine is a fascist state and that Western nations support fascists in Ukraine, thereby justifying Russia’s actions.

A third major spread that the pro-Russian discourse tries to amplify: distrust of democratic institutions, whether it be the media, international institutions or the Liberal government in Ottawa.

In the face of the challenges associated with foreign interference, it is important to better understand the spread of disinformation in Canadaconcludes the report.

METHODOLOGY :

The data underlying this analysis consists of 6.2 million tweets from around the world since January 2022. The choice of the Twitter network follows a technical logic, as it is the most open platform possible that offers the ability to collate and collect data and then analyze it. Other platforms, such as Facebook, despite their influence on public opinion on a range of subjects, do not allow data to be collected, according to Jean-Christophe Boucher.

Profile information was collected for accounts that initially tweeted and retweeted using key terms (Russia, Ukraine, NATOPycc, Росій, Укра, HATO) associated with the current conflict in Ukraine.

A location filter was then applied, limiting the dataset to tweets associated with Canadian Twitter profiles.

Next, there was an analysis of the posts to establish a network of retweets to map a connection between the accounts that propagate the narratives relating to the war in Ukraine.

A community detection algorithm helps to divide the profiles into different groups: communities of similar profiles, as well as to identify the main influencers, both abroad and in Canada, who promote pro-Russian stories.

Finally, a deep learning algorithm is introduced to categorize the main narratives discussed in each of the groups.

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