College campus protests are being exploited by a Russian influence campaign

A Russian influence campaign seems to be attempting to sow division in the US around the college campus protests.
Doppelganger is well known for using a network of inauthentic bot accounts to spread links to fake versions of real news websites.
In the past, the network has impersonated websites as diverse as Le Monde in France and Fox News in the US.
In recent months, the Doppelganger network has been used to stoke tensions in the US over the border crisis in Texas and boost false claims that celebrities like Taylor Swift were supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Doppelganger network uses a combination of “content bots,” which post the links, and “promotion bots,” which then boost those original tweets.
The researchers were able to identify the bots as part of the Doppelganger network because of the URLs they were sharing, which have in the past been identified by Meta as those repeatedly used by the network.
However on Tuesday, a review by WIRED found that several of the accounts that had been sharing these links had been suspended by X. X did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment.
While there have been over 2,000 arrests at campus protests in the US so far, protests have largely been peaceful, and no one has been killed.


The US appears to be experiencing division over the college campus protests due to a Russian influence campaign.

Using its disinformation infrastructure in conjunction with state-run media and Telegram influencers, the Kremlin appears to have taken a cue from its foreign influence playbook in an attempt to further polarize American society as protests at universities across the nation—and the responses to them by college authorities and law enforcement—continue to fuel division and animosity.

A disinformation campaign run by the Kremlin-aligned network Doppelganger garnered over 130,000 views on X in the last week, according to data exclusively shared with WIRED by Antibot4Navalny, a group of anonymous Russian researchers who have been following the Russian influence operation for years.

Doppelganger is well known for disseminating links to phony replicas of legitimate news websites via a network of fraudulent bot accounts. The network has previously impersonated websites that range from Fox News in the US to Le Monde in France. The Doppelganger network has been used in recent months to reinforce rumors that celebrities, such as Taylor Swift, were endorsing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to inflame tensions within the US over the border crisis in Texas.

Because the bots were sharing URLs that Meta had previously identified as being frequently used by the network, the researchers were able to identify the bots as being a member of the Doppelganger network.

In addition, the network simultaneously advertised a link to a spoof of The Liberal, an Israeli website that similarly claimed that Soros was funding the demonstrations.

A URL that concealed the actual content being shared in the X posts was one of the many ruses employed by the Doppelganger campaign to evade discovery. A user is taken to content created by the Doppelganger campaign, such as the phony Washington Post website, when they click on the link. Yet, X had suspended a number of the accounts that were disseminating these links, according to a review that WIRED discovered on Tuesday.

When WIRED asked X for a comment, X did not reply.

Contrary to China’s disinformation campaigns, some users who appeared to be real did reply to the posts, despite the fact that they did not receive much interaction. Writing “Fuck Palestine,” one person replied, while another used an image to say “Free Palestine.”. “.

Over the past week, state-run media and Telegram groups have been emphasizing the “threat of deadly police violence against demonstrators” and drawing parallels between the current protests and the 1970 Kent State demonstrations, in which four students were shot and killed by the National Guard. This narrative has been replicated by the covert Doppelganger campaign. In the US, there have been over 2,000 arrests during protests on campuses, but overall, the events have been nonviolent and no one has been slain.

“Land of the Free? How US Lawmakers Restrict Students’ Right to Peaceful Protest: US lawmakers have once again shown where their sympathies lie in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by cracking down on student protests against the bloodbath in the Gaza Strip,” Sputnik wrote on Facebook. “.

Russian influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers on Telegram have been promoting protest-related content as part of the coordinated campaign. Videos of US college police, purportedly demonstrating “urban warfare training,” were uploaded on a military blog channel with over 800,000 followers. “North against South, crips against bloods, donkeys against elephants, and everyone against everyone,” a viewer questioned in a comment on the video. Over 250,000 people have viewed the post.

Based on analysis shared with WIRED by Logically, a company that uses artificial intelligence to track disinformation campaigns, the Telegram channels seem to coordinate around a narrative that charges the US government of hypocrisy when it comes to freedom of protest and organization.

Kyle Walter, global head of investigative research and innovation at Logically, tells WIRED that “as the 2024 US election approaches, this is another example of signals emerging from Russian-language channels indicating Russia is turning its access to domestic US issues after nearly two years of focusing largely on Ukraine.”.

In this regard, Russia is not unique. In just two weeks, state media in China, Iran, and the United States have published almost 400 English-language pieces concerning the campus protests, according to NewsGuard, an online disinformation monitoring organization. Additionally, in their official capacities, these governments have promoted their narratives on social media platforms. Spokesman for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nasser Kanaani posted on X with a picture of a student protestor and the caption, “Imprisonment of freedom in the U.S. s. A. “.

Not all of the misinformation surrounding the protests has come from foreign sources. Far-right figures in the US have promoted a number of conspiracies, which have been repeated in mainstream media, about Soros and other people funding the protests and procuring tents for students. However, Russia is now attempting to expand on those stories:.

According to the Antibot4Navalny researchers, “Doppelganger is adding its own criticism of Biden to preexisting conspiracy theories about the protests, amplifying them, and adopting them for Kremlin’s own purposes.” The researchers use a variety of strategies to boost support for Trump.

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