#Kremlin: Using Hashtags to Analyze Russian Disinformation Strategy and Dissemination on Twitter

Paper by Sarah Oates, and John Gray: “Reports of Russian interference in U.S. elections have raised grave concerns about the spread of foreign disinformation on social media sites, but there is little detailed analysis that links traditional political communication theory to social media analytics. As a result, it is difficult for researchers and analysts to gauge the nature or level of the threat that is disseminated via social media. This paper leverages both social science and data science by using traditional content analysis and Twitter analytics to trace how key aspects of Russian strategic narratives were distributed via #skripal, #mh17, #Donetsk, and #russophobia in late 2018.

This work will define how key Russian international communicative goals are expressed through strategic narratives, describe how to find hashtags that reflect those narratives, and analyze user activity around the hashtags. This tests both how Twitter amplifies specific information goals of the Russians as well as the relative success (or failure) of particular hashtags to spread those messages effectively. This research uses Mentionmapp, a system co-developed by one of the authors (Gray) that employs network analytics and machine intelligence to identify the behavior of Twitter users as well as generate profiles of users via posting history and connections. This study demonstrates how political communication theory can be used to frame the study of social media; how to relate knowledge of Russian strategic priorities to labels on social media such as Twitter hashtags; and to test this approach by examining a set of Russian propaganda narratives as they are represented by hashtags. Our research finds that some Twitter users are consistently active across multiple Kremlin-linked hashtags, suggesting that knowledge of these hashtags is an important way to identify Russian propaganda online influencers. More broadly, we suggest that Twitter dichotomies such as bot/human or troll/citizen should be used with caution and analysis should instead address the nuances in Twitter use that reflect varying levels of engagement or even awareness in spreading foreign disinformation online….(More)”.