After widespread allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the first evidence is emerging of possible attempts by Moscow to influence Britain’s referendum on leaving the European Union.
Researchers have identified thousands of social media accounts that promoted anti-EU messages or sought to whip up political and racial tensions. The investigation by the University of California, Berkeley and Britain’s Swansea University shows in the two days leading up to the “Leave” victory in June 2016, Twitter accounts based in Russia posted almost 45,000 messages about Brexit, most of them anti-EU.
The next day, the majority went silent. By far the majority of the accounts had not previously engaged in the Brexit debate but had instead focused on other issues like the conflict in Ukraine.
Britain’s Electoral Commission and a committee of lawmakers have launched separate investigations into fake news and the role of social media, as the new evidence emerges.
Conservative MP Damian Collins, Chairman of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee and head of the investigation said; “Russia is interfering, and it is doing so to try to undermine public confidence in political institutions and in the mainstream media in Western countries. We have to regard the spread of fake news propagated by fake accounts across Twitter and Facebook in this way as a real threat to our democracy.”
U.S. spy agencies say Russia directed a campaign of propaganda to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied interfering.After meeting Putin last week, U.S. President Donald Trump said he believed his Russian counterpart.