Elon Musk Mocked Ukraine, and Russian Trolls Went Wild

The Antibot4Navalny group monitors inauthentic accounts on X, focusing on the Russian language, and it identifies accounts that may not be genuine by analyzing their behavior and the replies they make to media outlets. Data gathered by the researchers shows the accounts replying both to Musk’s original tweet and also those from Russian-language news accounts, such as BBC Russian and DW Russian. The posts are mostly in Russian, but there are also a few in English. “Among troll replies addressing Musk directly, some are using memes or other images which are sometimes a part of the message,” a Antibot4Navalny representative says.

“Russia thanks you for your excellent work, Elon. And answers with memes,” one English language post says. “As usual, Musk is our comrade: like us, he ROFLs at the junkie,” a translated Russian post says. Others praise Musk for telling the “truth” and mocking the Ukrainian president.

One former Twitter disinformation researcher, granted anonymity to allow them to speak freely without fear of retaliation, looked at a sample of the accounts highlighted by Antibot4Navalny. “Most accounts had multiple signs of inauthenticity,” the former staff member says, pointing out that their analysis was done using public-facing data, and only X would be able to make “hard findings” based on technical data available to the company. The former staff member says the accounts had repeated behavior in reposts and “inconsistent or clearly falsified” personal information. “There was a spectrum for how realistically or well chosen an account’s profile pic is,” they say, with some profile images being pulled from elsewhere online.

Martin Innes, codirector of the Security Crime and Intelligence Innovation Institute at Cardiff University, who has led international disinformation research, reviewed a sample of the data with colleagues. He also says there are multiple signs that the accounts may not be genuine. “The accounts examined are newly created, in the main during the period of the Ukraine-Russia war, and exhibit behavior designed to target and polarize opinion, and gain popularity through interaction with larger accounts, many of which represent popular media outlets,” Innes says.

Innes and the Cardiff University researchers say the accounts often have low or zero follower numbers, a lack of identifiable personal details, mostly just reply to other accounts’ posts, and produce anti-Ukraine and anti-Zelensky messaging, which mirror wider Russian narratives. Russia has long used social media to impact politics and divide opinions. In September, an EU report concluded that the “reach and influence” of Kremlin-backed accounts on social media had increased in 2023, particularly highlighting X.

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