New data show how Iran tried to manipulate public opinion on Twitter

Geraldine Edwards
October 20, 2018

The data: The data sets cover 4,611 accounts Twitter believes to be linked with misinformation campaigns originating in Russian Federation and Iran and include over 10 million tweets and more than two million images, GIFs, or videos. The datasets released this week are aimed at enabling independent academic research and investigation into the nature of foreign influence campaigns, Twitter said. IRA allegedly ran information campaigns on several social media platforms to undermine the political process in the 2016 USA presidential election.

Twitter has already disclosed the account numbers, but is now releasing the actual tweets, images, video and other information. Nine million are attributed to the Russian "Agency for Internet research", known as a "Troll factory".

At the beginning of 2018, Twitter revealed its findings into the 2016 United States presidential election and its effects on it, widely believed to have been a key player in the unexpected electing of Donald Trump.

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On the day of the Brexit vote, they tweeted posts with the hashtag ReasonsToLeaveEU more than 1,000 times.

The data release includes the content of tweets from these accounts, which provides a richer look at how these accounts operated.

The Iranian campaign, they said, appeared to have been more focused on spreading its own government's messages via links to sympathetic websites. It follows on the heels of Facebook and Twitter confirming they had found hundreds of accounts, pages, and groups based in Iran trying to spread political content online in August.

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On 23 June 2016, the day of the European Union referendum, Russian Federation mobilised its army of trolls, which at one stage included 3,800 accounts. Numerous accounts were created to look like they were run by real Americans.

"There has been a lot of misunderstanding on the IRA operation, notably because the public was working with bits and pieces of data", said Camille Francois, director of research for social media data analytics firm Graphika.

Russian Federation and Iran have both denied accusations that they attempted to influence U.S. voters on social media or through other means. Why is Twitter opening up this treasure trove of nefarious tweets?

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