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HomeU.S.Pro-Moscow voices tried to steer debate over Ohio train disaster

Pro-Moscow voices tried to steer debate over Ohio train disaster

Pro-Moscow voices tried to steer debate over Ohio train disaster

WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly after a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals in Ohio last month, anonymous pro-Russian accounts began spreading misleading claims and anti-American propaganda about it on Twitter, using Elon Musk’s new verification system to expand their reach and create the illusion of credibility.

The accounts, which repeated Kremlin talking points on a myriad of issues, claimed without evidence that Ohio authorities were lying about the true impact of the chemical spill. The accounts spread alarmist posts that preyed on legitimate concerns. About pollution and health effects and compared the response to the derailment to US support for Ukraine after its invasion by Russia.

Some of the claims pushed by the pro-Russian accounts were provably false, such as the suggestion that the media had covered up the disaster or that environmental scientists traveling to the site had been killed in a plane crash. But most were more speculative, apparently designed to stoke fear or mistrust. Examples include unverified maps showing widespread contamination, posts predicting a rise in fatal cancers, and others about unconfirmed mass animal deaths.

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“Biden offers food, water, medicine, shelter, pension payments and social services to Ukraine! Ohio first! Offer and deliver to Ohio!” posted one of the pro-Moscow accounts, which has 25,000 followers and features an anonymous location and a profile photo of a dog. Twitter gave the account a blue checkmark in January.

By regularly spewing anti-American propaganda, the accounts show how easily authoritarian states and willing Americans spread their propaganda may exploit social media platforms like twitter in an effort to direct domestic discourse.

The accounts were identified by Reset, a London-based nonprofit that studies the impact of social media on democracy, and shared with The Associated Press. Felix Kartte, a senior adviser at Reset, said the report’s findings indicate that Twitter is allowing Russia to use its platform as a megaphone.

with no one home in Twitter’s product security department, Russia will continue to meddle in US elections and democracies around the world,” Kartte said.

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Twitter did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.

The 38-car derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, released toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, sparking a national debate about rail safety. and environmental regulations as poisoning fears rise drinking water and air.

The disaster was a major topic on social media, with millions of mentions on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, according to an analysis by San Francisco-based media intelligence firm Zignal Labs, which conducted a study on behalf of the AP.

At first, the derailment received little attention online, but mentions grew steadily, peaking two weeks after the incident, Zignal found, a span of time that gave pro-Russian voices time to try to shape the conversation.

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The accounts identified by the Reset researchers got an extra boost from Twitter itself, in the form of a blue check mark. Before Musk bought Twitter last year, verification marks indicated accounts run by verified users, often public figures, celebrities or journalists. It was seen as a mark of authenticity. on a platform known for bots and spam accounts.

Musk ended that system and replaced it with Twitter Blue.given to users who pay $8 per month and provide a phone number. blue twitter users agree not to participate in the deception and are required to post a profile picture and name. But there is no rule that they use their own.

Under the program, Twitter Blue users can write and send longer tweets and videos. Your answers also have higher priority in other posts.

The AP contacted several of the accounts listed in the Reset report. In response, one of the accounts sent a two-word message before blocking the AP reporter on Twitter: “Shut up.”

While investigators found clues suggesting some of the accounts are linked to coordinated efforts by Russian disinformation agencies, others were American, showing that the Kremlin doesn’t always have to pay to spread its message.

One account, known as Truth Puke, is connected to a website of the same name aimed at conservatives in the United States. Truth Puke republishes regularly on Russian state media; RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is one of his favorite groups to repost, Reset found. A video posted by the account features former President Donald Trump’s comments on the train derailment, with Russian subtitles.

In a response to questions from the AP, Truth Puke said it aims to provide a “broad spectrum of viewpoints” and was surprised to be labeled a disseminator of Russian propaganda, despite the heavy use of such material in the media. account. When asked about the video with Russian subtitles, Truth Puke said that he used the Russian version of the Trump video for convenience.

“We can assure you that this was not done with any Russian propaganda intent in mind, we just like to post things as soon as we find them,” the company said.

Other accounts boast of their love for Russia. On Thursday, one account reposted a bizarre claim that the United States was stealing earthquake relief supplies donated to Syria by China. The account has 60,000 followers and is known as Donbass Devushka, after the region from Ukraine

Another pro-Russian account recently tried to seek an online discussion with Ukraine’s defense department, posting photos of documents it claimed came from the Wagner Group., a private military company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a key Putin ally. Prigozhin operates troll farms that have targeted American social media users in the past. Last fall he bragged about his efforts to meddle in American democracy.

A separate Twitter account claiming to represent Wagner actively uses the site to recruit fighters.

“Gentlemen, we have interfered, we are interfering and we will interfere”, Prigozhin said last fall on the eve of the 2022 US midterm elections. “With care, precision, surgery and in our own way, as we know how to do it,” Prigozhin said at the time.



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