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In a startling revelation, a group of data scientists has found 156,252 Russian accounts have meddled on Twitter which mentioned #Brexit and posted nearly 45,000 messages related to the EU referendum in the 48 hours around the vote.
According to a report in The Times on Thursday, "Russian Twitter accounts posted more than 45,000 messages about Brexit in 48 hours during last year's referendum in an apparently coordinated attempt to sow discord".
According to data scientists from Swansea University in Wales and the University of California, Berkeley, over 150,000 Russian accounts who were posting about the Ukrainian conflict swiftly started tweeting about Brexit in days leading up to the 2016 vote.
"During the Referendum day, there is a sign that bots attempted to spread more leave messages with positive sentiment as the number of leave tweets with positive sentiment increased dramatically on that day," the research said.
"Furthermore, before the Referendum Day, among those humans' retweets from bots, tweets by the Leave side accounted for about 50 per cent of retweets while only nearly 20 per cent of retweets had pro-remain content," it added.
"Before the Election Day, about 80 per cent of retweets were in favour of (Donald) Trump while only 20 per cent of retweets were supporting (Hillary) Clinton," the research paper noted.
The data scientists used Twitter's API to obtain relevant datasets of tweets to analyse and reach the conclusion.
"For the Referendum, the massive number of Russian-related tweets were only created few days before the voting day, reached its peak during the voting and result days then dropped immediately afterwards," the researchers wrote.
"This, coupled with the echo chambers nature of social media, might lead to the case that bots could shape public opinions in negative ways. If so, policy-makers should consider mechanisms to prevent abuse of bots in the future," the paper said.
Facebook, Twitter and Google are facing intense fake news scrutiny after disclosing the details about the presence of Russian political ads, tweets and posts on their platforms during the presidential election in 2016.
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