Russian hacking is the buzzword of the day, even in other places than America – and is the subject of the latest desperate whining from British lefties.
Former Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, a former cabinet minister, suggested that Russia “hacked Brexit”:
Well, yes and no. The fact is that Putin did indeed use his Twitter bot army -Twitter trolls who are paid and controlled by the Russian government – to push for Brexit, .
As I reported in a long explainer on how the Russian Twitter bot farm worked with pro-Trump social media accounts, you can tell a Putinbot by the content of their Twitter feed, and one of those markers was support for Brexit.
But not just any “Brexit”. Oh no. The Russian troll farm works closely with those whom Breitbart and Steve Bannon support – including Nigel Farage.
Not, by the way, with UKIP. Russian bots during the election never supported Douglas Carswell, the only UKIP MP, Steven Woolfe MEP, Patrick O’Flynn MEP, or Suzanne Evans MEP.
The vast majority of UKIP’s councillors sided with Vote Leave – the official Brexit body – which beat Leave.EU in a bitter designation battle.
Farage threatened other UKIPers over the matter and drunkenly announced that the referendum was lost five minutes after close of poll.
But Mr. Farage had massive support on Twitter. It was during the Brexit referendum that I first noticed Russia’s botnet on Twitter.
Curious tweets in support of Farage, very much a marginal figure during the EU Referendum in Britain. Day to day, news was being made by Andrea Leadsom, Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart, Dan Hannan, John Whittingdale, Priti Patel and other “stars” of the Government and opposition.
Mr. Farage did appear on a TV show to be questioned after David Cameron, but that was one of the only visible moments he had during the Brexit campaign itself.
So the tsunami of pro-Farage, pro-Brexit tweets from an army of “tweeters” with unusual profiles and bios did seem odd. This army was also hugely supportive of Donald Trump. While Mr. Trump was then at polling lows in the US, clearly as a major party nominee, he had support.
But in Britain, it is fair to say, Trump was disdained by everybody. He was toxic. And the vast enthusiasm for him and Farage-Brexit on Twitter was suspicious to me.
I started reading the timelines of the Brexit Bots, as I thought of them, and found they were all into Vladimir Putin and Russia. They also liked Marine le Pen (not Francois Fillon, I am glad to say) and Viktor Orban, the utterly anonymous Prime Minister of Hungary.
I called out some of the Russians on this matter at the time, but I did not write a wider story. I didn’t want to call attention to the fact that Vladimir Putin was supporting Brexit.
— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) October 18, 2016
My now friend the Putinbot @AfredAlbion was tweeting madly about Russia at 4:14 am UK time.
— Alfred Albion™ (@AfredAlbion) June 5, 2016
If you search Afred’s timeline for “Russia” now you will not find 150 tweets before June 5th: he has scrubbed them all. Other tweets on the Russian bot-net, the “Steve Bannon specials”, however, remain:
Marine Le Pen
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen
— Alfred Albion™ (@AfredAlbion) December 20, 2015
And there are plenty of examples. The Russian botnet frequently changes its IDs and avatars to suit the troll farm target of the moment.
I tweeted at an account called “@MooreJ78” during #Brexit. His avatar then was of an Englishman on a noble steed (oil painting). As the French election comes up, “MooreJ78” has changed his handle to “@Perrotthegreat” with a suitably French avatar to match.
Below, examples of Putinbot accounts in various languages all pushing out the story about Putin scoring goals in a hockey match (faked, and you’d hardly block the shot if you were the goalie, would you?). Each of these accounts is a Russian in a troll farm, pushing the same lines of thought to propagandize world wide:
— Jewish Russophile (@JewRussophile) October 7, 2015
— Nicola Facciolini (@NikeSkywalker) June 12, 2016
— Alfred Albion™ (@AfredAlbion) October 8, 2015
Putin celebrates birthday on ice scoring 7 goals https://t.co/ciwkCbqzPy 露骨な人気取りだけどまあよし。世界中から注目浴びてるし。
— iPatrioticmom (@iPatrioticmom) October 7, 2015
— n2Deep (@clifcoholic) October 7, 2015
We can see by putting “@clifcoholic” into a Google search that the profile spreads fake news and conspiracy theories and posts on Polish forums. Entering @nikeskywalker into Google turns up this:
— Nicola Facciolini (@NikeSkywalker) September 14, 2016
— Nicola Facciolini (@NikeSkywalker) September 6, 2016
But did it make a difference? The fact is, Putin’s troll army exists only on Twitter, and his fake news on Facebook. Putin has weaponized Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, but this only works when enough of the target audience are online.
Brexit offered little opportunity for actual hacking, as the Russians tried to hack state electoral register databases in the United States. For phishing, such as the Russians utilised in the DNC attacks, there was, again, very little chance.
The British “Remain” campaign did get one email leaked, on how they handled the aftermath of the death of murdered MP Jo Cox, but like the Marmite wars and the “Full English Brexit” “scandals” showed, this referendum campaign had no real skulduggery or secrets to expose – just slip-ups. It was passionate but not partisan.
Finally, the hidden Brexit voters, who had not voted in the general election, were found in places where there isn’t a lot of time spent on Twitter; the Welsh mining valleys, factory workers in Sunderland.
The UK’s “first past the post” system for Westminster elections means that – as in America – only a few “swing areas” normally count. But “Brexit” was a giant, popular contest, where every vote counted equally. Voters in the safe Labour seats of the Welsh valleys suddenly matter intensely.
Post-Brexit surveys and polls are suspect in the same way that the pre-Brexit polls were suspect; but the Brexit vote was far less likely to use Twitter.
It was older, and included demographic traits being married with children. Single, young, cosmopolitan professionals – Tweeters – were far more likely to vote Remain.
So yes, Putin tried to swing Brexit, but Britain ignored him. Ben Bradshaw should stop trying to give credit to a Russian troll-king who’ll be happy to take credit he does not deserve.