A Russian-language network of Twitter bots tried to boost claims of voter fraud going into Germany’s national elections on Sept. 24. Those elections seem to have largely avoided the alleged Russian interference that had recently taken place in both the United States and France, but Russian-language bots still seized on a claim made by what appears to be a fake account, according to The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. On Sept. 22, an account sent a tweet in German (translated below) that made it seem as though someone going by the name of “Sahrer” was going to help run the election, and would invalidate votes in favor of Alternative for Germany, a far-right party whose leaders have developed friendships in Moscow. The above account photo, as pointed out by the Digital Forensic Research Lab, is actually a Pakistani actress with some digitally-altered red hair, and the account didn’t post much until it was close to election time in Germany.
“The activity indicates a high likelihood this is a fake account pushing a message to provoke a reaction from the far right, and, potentially, to call the legitimacy of the election into question,” the researchers wrote in a Medium post.
That message found success, though not without help from the Russian-language botnet.
Alternative for Germany supporters had been tweeting #Wahlbetrug (#ElectionFraud) in the week before the election, and they used that hashtag to bring attention to this incendiary tweet, too. But that hashtag got a giant boost going into the weekend. Researchers wrote that “the traffic was not organic, but boosted by a network of automated ‘bot’ accounts” operating “largely in Russian.”