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Britain says it's uncovered Russian 'troll factory' to influence war in Ukraine

Britain says it's uncovered Russian 'troll factory' to influence war in Ukraine
The operation is suspected to be connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked businessman behind the Internet Research Agency. File Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

May 2 (UPI) -- Britain said it has uncovered a new large-scale disinformation campaign launched by Russia targeting world leaders and Kremlin critics across various social media platforms.

The operation is believed to be run from an old St. Petersburg factory where paid employees attempt to manipulate public opinion concerning Russia's invasion of Ukraine by recruiting new supporters to spam the social media profiles of targets including British ministers and other world leaders, Britain's foreign ministry said in a Sunday statement.

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The ministry called the operation "a troll factory" that spreads lies on social media and in comment sections of popular websites with traces of the operation found across eight social media platforms, including TikTok and Twitter.

"The cyber soldiers are ruthlessly targeting politicians and audiences across a number of countries including the U.K., South Africa and India," it said.

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The ministry said the investigation has produced evidence that shows this operation is using Telegram to recruit supporters to spam targeted social media profiles to support Russia's war and President Vladimir Putin.

"We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin's illegal war," Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said. "The U.K. government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations."

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The foreign ministry explained that the effort is concentrating on having new recruits post comments rather than producing content as it will reduce the risk of having accounts deactivated under guidelines concerning inauthentic behavior and posting harmful content.

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The operation is suspected to be connected to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked businessman behind the Internet Research Agency, which has been described by the U.S. Treasury as a "Russia troll farm" that's been implicated in the meddling in U.S. elections in 2016 and 2018.

Prigozhin and his company have both been sanctioned by the U.S. and British governments.

The man known as "Putin's Chef" is also wanted by the FBI, which is offering a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to his arrest.

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"These are insidious attempts by Putin and his propaganda machine to deceive the world about the brutality he's inflicting on the people of Ukraine," Britain's Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said. "This evidence will help us to more effectively identify and remove Russian disinformation."

Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine on Feb. 24, social media companies Meta, Twitter and others have employed restrictions against Russia's use of their platforms in an effort to curb its propaganda efforts.

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Russia has responded to the moves, with a Moscow court in March banning Facebook and Instagram under the nation's extremism law. The country has also announced fines against YouTube's parent company, Alphabet, for failing to remove videos containing content about its invasion of Ukraine that has been banned in Russia.

Late last week, U.S. technology giant Microsoft said it has observed Russia-aligned hackers conducting cyberattacks against Ukraine that coincide with its military's ground invasion.

Taking shelter in Ukraine

Lyubov Ivanovna Vlasenko, 70, (L) and her husband Gennady Ivanovich Sergeev, 74, eat lunch in the basement-turned bunker moments after Russian artillery landed approximately 800 meters away in the Pyatikhatki district, of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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