Roberto Rocha, “Data sheds light on how Russian Twitter trolls targeted Canadians,” CBC News, August 3, 2018, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/russian-twitter-trolls-canada-targeted-1.4772397 (accessed August 3, 2018)
Based on the data gathered by two professors from South Carolina’s Clemson University and released by the FiveThirtyEight website, CBC News analyzed a cache of three million deleted tweets associated with St. Petersburg’s Internet Research Agency accused of trolling in favour of Russia. Having searched the database for 60 keywords connected with Canadian issues, analysts revealed that almost 8,000 Russian tweets targeted Canada. The newspaper concludes, citing Canadian researchers, that the main goal for such activities was to create confusion and discord among the general public. At the same time, CBC News agrees that it is unknown how many people were affected in Canada. Estimations can only be made judging by a number of followers of those accounts, while the actual reaction of the audience is lacking in the database. The article consists of certain examples of tweets, categorization of accounts and some official stand on Canadian cybersecurity.
The CBC made a tremendous job searching for those tweets on Canada, analyzing them, connecting them with events and discourse in the country, calculating peaks of activities, etc. It would be interesting though to dig deeper on several aspects of these issues, in particular on readers of those accounts and content of those tweets. And going back to the readers, it has been already mentioned that it was impossible to trace whether the information compiled by Russian trolls truly influenced the Canadian public. Some of those accounts had up to 44,000 subscribers, but their citizenship remains unknown. Those followers might have been Russians, and the entire disinformation could have also been directed to the Russian population in order to create a feeling of dissatisfaction of Canadians with their state policy. This type of news is extensively used by Russian state media for “internal use.” Thus, misinterpretation of the information is not denied per se.
Meantime, not everything was just fake, as the article admits. Some tweets contained “polarizing content on both sides of a debate.” And a presence of debates on important questions in any society is believed to be healthy for the state. A lack of such debates, in turn, should arouse alarm. It is quite another matter when debates are brought from outside. But, most probably, they just don’t have a chance to set roots then. To prove this case, further research looking at potential discourse fluctuations within Canada after those tweets is needed.
Nevertheless, the CBC analysis raises awareness and puts some thought into people’s mind about the real misuse of information in their daily life, adding a new page to the history of Russia’s meddling in other countries’ internal affairs.
Anna Tsurkan, Ph.D., is the associate fellow at the Centre for studies in religion and society of the University of Victoria, B.C., Canada and the head of the Canada-Russia Research Initiative