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New report concludes Russian social media interfered in UK's EU referendum

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New report concludes Russian social media interfered in UK's EU referendum

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Reuters
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British communications agency 89up.org has concluded that there was significant pro-Brexit Russian social media interference during the referendum.

A new report published by British communications agency 89up.org has concluded that there was significant pro-Brexit Russian influence during the EU referendum campaign.

In November British Prime Minister Theresa May told Russia that she's aware they are "weaponising information" but she has stopped short of directly accusing the Russian government of targeting the referendum.

But 89up.org's founder Mike Harris was clear about the role of Russian state media in attempting to influence public opinion.

"What our research shows is that it was the Kremlin state media, Russia Today and Sputnik who pumped out a series of, we found 261 highly leading articles which were all about the refugee crisis or how great the trade deals would be that the UK would get after Brexit," he said.

"There was a series of very established social media pushes that meant that these articles had more reach on twitter than the two official leave campaigns had combined."

89up.org also says Facebook needs to be much more transparent on who spent what on advertising during the 2016 referendum campaign.

"During the period of the UK referendum we need to know who did Facebook take advertising from and they need to make a proper audit to see if any Russian state actors were promoting content that would lead British voters to either conclusion, to remain in the EU or to leave the EU," Harris said.

The British parliament's digital, culture, media and sport select committee is currently investigating what role the Russian may or may not have had.

Its Conservative Party MP chair Damian Collins said over the weekend that social media companies such as Twitter should have to inform British voters who might have been exposed to Russian propaganda during the campaign.

But Russia has always denied interfering in the referendum campaign - or indeed the US election - and it says it's been made a scapegoat.