Prorussian Internet trolls manipulate the comment sections of Western media, according to a study conducted by Cardiff University. These comments are then used to suggest alleged public support for the Kremlin’s policies, as the daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reports. Apparently, Russian-language media then incorporate these comments (i.e., pure misinformation) into their own reporting, presenting them as alleged evidence of the Western public’s broad support for Russia’s policies.

This is a perfect example of how disinformation and manipulation of public opinion work.

This influence campaign is especially significant due to its international scale and its sophisticated manipulation of a wide range of media outlets, websites and social media in a co-ordinated way. By hijacking the comments sections of Western media brands, it has been able to present its propaganda as indicative of mainstream opinion.

The Western media outlets we investigated are especially vulnerable to this kind of manipulation, with no security measures in place to prevent, deter or detect this kind of activity. Trolls have been able to easily switch between personas and identities, which is something the technology actually enables.

Director of the Crime and Security Research Institute Professor Martin Innes

This phenomenon arises more questions, such as what else are Russian activists doing to push Russia’s interests in the geopolitical context by means of disinformation and manipulation of public opinion. Various other studies conclude that the creation and spread of fake news, conspiracy tales and horror stories about 5G, COVID-19, etc. are also part of this, with the aim of causing agitation in the West and weakening and manipulating democratic processes.

Critically reviewing information is therefore the key to forming a solid opinion. This is facilitated by professional fact checkers. However, their dilemma is that by disseminating fact checks, they simultaneously draw attention to misinformation. It is thus the responsibility of each one of us to critically review the information we’re presented with. To do so, a link to our guide can be found in the menu at the top of the website.

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