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Canada warns of Russian 'bot farm' powered by AI spreading online disinformation

Canadian security officials are warning of a Russian propaganda campaign that is spreading online disinformation through social media site X. A man uses a computer keyboard in Toronto in a Sunday, Oct. 9, 2023 photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Original Publication Date July 10, 2024 - 9:41 AM

OTTAWA - Canadian security officials are warning about a Russian propaganda campaign that used social-media site X to spread online disinformation.

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security said individuals affiliated with RT, formerly known as Russia Today, have been using a social-media bot farm at the direction of the Russian government.

Officials said fake social-media users were created to spread disinformation in the United States and abroad.

The accounts often posed as Americans and promoted messages in support of Russian government objectives, they said.

When asked to comment on the claims, the RT press office said: "Farming is a beloved pastime for millions of Russians."

Canada, along with the U.S. and the Netherlands, worked to disrupt the disinformation campaign, but officials are warning that similar activity could pop up on other social-media sites.

U.S. officials said 968 social-media accounts were identified as having been used by Russian actors. X has since suspended those accounts.

Last month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned during a visit to Canada that disinformation is a threat to the defensive alliance and its efforts to arm Ukraine against Russia's invasion.

"Disinformation is a big challenge because we see that Russia is fueling disinformation in many ways. We also see China is doing that," Stoltenberg told The Canadian Press.

"So we need to be very much aware of the risk."

While it's the role of government to counter disinformation, an independent and free press remains the best way to protect against it, Stoltenberg said.

The Russian propaganda campaign warning also comes as American and Canadian officials grapple with how to counter foreign attempts to disrupt elections using AI and disinformation.

NATO leaders are in Washington, D.C. this week for their annual summit and to mark the alliance's 75th anniversary, with Ukraine and aid for the country at the centre of discussions.

“As the Russian government continues to wage its brutal war in Ukraine and threatens democracies around the world, the Justice Department will continue to deploy all of our legal authorities to counter Russian aggression and protect the American people," said U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a statement.

During a keynote speech at the Canadian embassy in Washington on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said cybersecurity is one of the biggest threats facing the alliance's security.

"We must be clear-eyed about the current state of global affairs," he said.

"We're living in an increasingly dangerous, unstable and complex world. Cyberwarfare, resurgent authoritarian forces, expanding regional conflicts, and everywhere, increasing impacts of climate change all represent growing threats to our collective security and continued prosperity."

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Canada's broadcasting regulator banned state broadcaster RT, along with RT France, from the airwaves.

At that time, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission found the broadcasters' content was "not in the public interest" as it exposed Ukrainian people to hatred or contempt on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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