'Hundreds of Russian Twitter accounts tweeted about Brexit', researchers claim

Social media applications of WhatsApp Facebook Twitter Linkedin and Periscope

Social media applications of WhatsApp Facebook Twitter Linkedin and Periscope

Russian Twitter accounts posted nearly 45,000 messages about Brexit in the 48 hours around last year's referendum in an attempt to sow discord during the vote on whether to leave the European Union, the Times newspaper reported on Wednesday.

More than 150,000 accounts based in Russian Federation, which had previously confined their posts to subjects such as the Ukrainian conflict, switched attention to Brexit in the days leading up to last year's vote, according to research for an upcoming paper by data scientists at Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Most notably, they tweeted 45,000 times about Brexit in just a 48-hour period around the vote, according to The Times. From posting fewer than 1,000 tweets a day before June 13, the accounts - many of which are virulently pro-Putin - posted 39,000 tweets on June 24... It quoted Tho Pham, one of the paper's authors, as saying "the main conclusion is that bots were used on objective and had influence".

A similar report from the University of Edinburgh identified a smaller number of Twitter accounts operated by the infamous Russian propaganda arm the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which it claims attempted to sow discord in society and destabilize politics.

British MP Damian Collins
British MP Damian Collins

It spotted 419 accounts from the 2752 suspended by Twitter in the U.S. for interfering in the presidential election a year ago.

The committee has already written to Facebook for information on any paid-for activity by Russia-linked accounts around the referendum and last general election.

The report comes a day after Prime Minister Theresa May publicly rebuked Russian Federation in a speech for trying to "sow discord in the West" with fake news and divisive social media campaigns.