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Pro-Russian voices tried to steer the Ohio train derailment debate

WASHINGTON (AP) – Soon after The train derailed and a toxic chemical spill in Ohio last month. Anonymous pro-Russian accounts began spreading misleading claims and anti-American propaganda about it on Twitter, using Elon Musk’s new verification system to expand their reach while creating an illusion of credibility.

Parrot stories Kremlin talking points On countless topics, he alleged without evidence that authorities in Ohio were lying about Real effect or chemical spill. The accounts posted intimidating, violating posts legitimate concerns on pollution And Health effects They compared the response to the deviation with America’s subsequent support for Ukraine Invasion of Russia.

Some of the claims made by the pro-Russian accounts were verifiably false, such as suggesting that The media Covering up the disaster or the murder of the environmentalists who travel to the site in A.J Planes crash. But most of it was more speculative, and seemed designed to stoke fear or mistrust. Examples include unverified maps showing widespread pollution, publications predicting an increase in deadly crabs and others about unconfirmed mass animal deaths.

“Biden provides food, water, medicine, shelter, pension payments and social services to Ukraine! Ohio first! Supply and delivery to Ohio!” posted one pro-Moscow account, which has 25,000 followers and features an anonymous location and a profile photo of a dog. Twitter gave the account a blue checkmark in January.

The accounts, which regularly spread anti-American propaganda, show how easily authoritarian countries and Americans are willing to make their files public Advertising Can ExploitSocial mediaplatforms Likes Twitter Trying to direct the local discourse.

The accounts were identified by Reset, a London-based nonprofit that studies the impact of social media on democracy, and shared with the Associated Press. Felix Kart, a senior advisor at Reset, said the report’s findings indicate that Twitter is allowing Russia to use its platform like a mouthpiece.

“with nobody home In the Product Safety section of Twitter, Russia will continue to interfere in US elections and in democracies around the world.”

Twitter did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.

A drone reveals parts of a derailed freight train in East Palestine, Ohio.

Gene J. Bouscar via The Associated Press

A 38-vehicle derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, released toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, triggering the attack. NationalDiscussion about rail safety and environmental regulations with raising concerns Poisoning drinking water and air.

The disaster has been a major topic on social media, with mentions made by millions on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, according to an analysis by San Francisco-based media intelligence firm Zignal Labs, which conducted the study on behalf of the AP.

At first, the derailment garnered little attention online, but mentions grew steadily, peaking two weeks after the incident, Zeinal found, a time lag that gave pro-Russian voices time to try to shape the conversation.

Accounts identified by Reset researchers received an additional push from Twitter itself, in the form of a blue check mark. Before Musk bought Twitter last year, check marks denoted accounts managed by authorized users, often public figures, celebrities or journalists. It was seen as A sign of authenticity On a platform known for botnet and spam accounts.

Musk ended this system and replaced it with Blue Twitterwhich are given to paying users $8 per month and provide a phone number. Twitter Blue users Agree not to deceive and required To post a profile picture and name. But there is no rule that they use their own rules.

Under the program, Twitter Blue users can write and send longer tweets and videos. Their responses are also given higher priority in other posts.

The AP reached out to several of the accounts included in the reset report. In response, one account sent a two-word message before blocking the AP reporter on Twitter: “Shut up.”

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of the controlled detonation of part of a derailed train on February 3.  6.
A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of the controlled detonation of part of a derailed train on February 3. 6.

Gene J. Bouscar via The Associated Press

While the researchers discovered evidence indicating that some of the accounts were linked to coordinated efforts by Russian disinformation agencies, others were Americans, showing that the Kremlin does not always have to pay to spread its message.

One account, known as Truth Puke, linked to a website of the same name geared towards conservatives in the United States. Truth Puke republishes it regularly Russian state media; Repost found RT, formerly Russia Today, to be one of their favorite groups to repost. One of the videos posted by the account shows former President Donald Trump’s remarks about the train derailment, complete with Russian subtitles.

In response to questions from the Associated Press, TruthBook said it aims to present “a wide range of opinions” and was surprised to be a publisher of Russian propaganda, despite the account’s extensive use of such material. Asked about the video with Russian subtitles, Truth Puke said that she used the Russian version of Trump’s video for the sake of benefit.

“We can assure you this was not done with any Russian propaganda intent in mind, we just want to get things out as quickly as we can find them,” the company said.

Other accounts boast of their love for Russia. One account republished an outlandish claim that the US was stealing earthquake relief supplies donated by China to Syria. The account has 60,000 followers and is known as Donbass Devushka, after region or Ukraine.

Another pro-Russian account recently attempted to pick up an online discussion with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, posting photos of documents it claimed came from Wagner GroupIt is a private military company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a key Putin ally. Prigozhin runs troll farms that have targeted social media users in the United States in the past. Last fall he bragged about his efforts to interfere with American democracy.

A separate Twitter account purporting to represent Wagner actively uses the site to recruit fighters.

We have intervened, gentlemen, and they will intervene“Carefully, delicately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do it,” Prigozhin said last fall on the eve of the 2022 midterm elections in the United States.

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