Germany unearths pro-Russia disinformation campaign on X | Germany

Digital forensic experts in Germany have uncovered a vast, pro-Russia disinformation campaign against the government using tens of thousands of fake accounts on the social media platform X.

The German foreign ministry, which commissioned the study after suspecting it was being targeted by bots, said the findings highlighted the need for governments to systematically tackle the growing number of disinformation campaigns and recognise the effect they could have on elections.

Using specialised monitoring software, the experts uncovered a huge trail of posts over a one-month period from 10 December, which amounted to a sophisticated and concerted onslaught on Berlin’s support for Ukraine. More than 1m German-language posts were sent from an estimated 50,000 fake accounts, amounting to a rate of two every second.

The overwhelming tone of the messages was the suggestion that the government of Olaf Scholz was neglecting the needs of Germans as a result of its support for Ukraine, both in terms of weapons and aid, as well as by taking in more than a million refugees.

Der Spiegel, which had access to the findings, reported that the fake accounts had matching comments attached to them, often using hashtags popular at the time, such as #Oktoberfest or #Bundesliga, in a concerted effort to reach as wide an audience as possible.

In one of the most impactful fake messages, in terms of the number of people it reached and the amount of feedback it generated, Annalena Baerbock, the foreign minister, appeared to be declaring from her own account on X that government support for Ukraine was crumbling. A small Cyrillic figure that had crept into the post apparently mistakenly was the only obvious factor immediately identifying it as fake.

The posts are typically linked to well-known media sites, using a link shortener so that the false domain names are not immediately obvious.

The analysts said they were convinced the source of the campaign was in Russia, making a connection to the Russian-led Doppelgänger campaign that first emerged in 2022, affecting the UK, France and Italy. Among the faked posts then were mock-up versions of reports from the Guardian and Daily Mail, among other publications.

The discovery of the Doppelgänger campaign led to the imposition of sanctions by the EU last summer on two Russian IT companies, Structura National Technologies and Social Design Agency, over their involvement in it. According to US authorities, the two companies are believed to be responsible for a similar Russian disinformation campaign in Latin America.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, spoke at the time of the “largest and most persistent” Russian online operation to date and blocked numerous accounts involved as a result.

The analysis showed that the operators of the message-sending system appeared to take breaks at the weekends and on Russian holidays, when the number of posts noticeably reduced.

The concern in the German government, which has already been the target of misinformation campaigns and computer hacks, is how this method might be used to affect the outcome of the upcoming European elections, as well as three state elections in eastern Germany where the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is leading in the polls.

Analysts were struck by the similarity in tone of messages reacting to the fake posts and the rhetoric used by the AfD. The party is highly critical of the government’s Ukraine policy as well as its management of everything from energy policy to education. The AfD has known links to the Kremlin and has taken a sympathetic approach towards Vladimir Putin.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.