Friday, July 19, 2024

The United States’ method of dismantling a Russian bot farm powered by artificial intelligence and spreading disinformation

Successful Shutdown of Russian AI Propaganda Operation on Social Media Platform X

The United States, along with Canadian and Dutch allies, has successfully shut down a sophisticated Russian propaganda operation that used artificial intelligence to create nearly 1,000 fake social media accounts on X (formerly Twitter). The bot farm, linked to Russian intelligence and state media, aimed to spread false information about the Ukraine war and sway public opinion in Western countries.

On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice announced the seizure of two internet domains and the disruption of 968 inauthentic accounts created by the Russian government since 2022. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray stated, “Today’s actions represent a first in disrupting a Russian-sponsored Generative AI-enhanced social media bot farm.”

The operation used an AI-powered software called Meliorator to generate convincing fake profiles on X. These accounts posed as Americans, complete with realistic names and locations. For example, one account claimed to be “Ricardo Abbott” from Minneapolis, while another used the name “Sue Williamson” from Gresham, Oregon.

These bots shared videos and messages supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justifications for the invasion of Ukraine. One post by the fake Minneapolis resident showed “Putin claiming that parts of Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania were ‘gifts’ granted to those countries by the Soviet Union during World War II.”

According to court documents, the bot farm was allegedly orchestrated by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in collaboration with RT, the state-controlled television network. Bloomberg reported that an RT deputy editor-in-chief reportedly led the software development in 2022, with funding and approval from an FSB officer.

The Russian operatives purchased two U.S.-based domain names, mlrtr.com and otanmail.com, to set up email servers for registering the fake social media profiles. This method allowed them to bypass X’s verification processes.

The Justice Department’s action was based on violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and federal money laundering laws.

X cooperated with the investigation by suspending the identified bot accounts and sharing information with authorities. However, the company declined to comment on its role in the operation.

This takedown highlights the growing use of AI in state-sponsored disinformation campaigns. The New York Times quoted Bret Schafer, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, who cautioned: “For every influence campaign they catch, there are likely many, many more that have evaded detection.”

While this operation primarily targeted X, authorities found evidence that the Russian actors planned to expand to other social media platforms. The dismantling of this bot farm comes as US officials warn of ongoing efforts by Russia and other nations to influence the upcoming November presidential election.

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