Twitter accounts based in Russia posted 45,000 tweets about Brexit within the space of 48 hours during last year’s referendum on EU membership, an investigation commissioned by The Times has found. Data scientists at the University of Swansea and University of California, Berkeley found that over 150,000 accounts based in Russia posted content relating to Brexit in the days leading up to voting day on June 23, 2016. These accounts had previously focused on issues like Russia’s annexation of Crimea, before focusing their attention on the Brexit referendum, with the majority of tweets seen by the Times encouraging people to vote Leave.
A “massive number of Russian-related tweets was created a few days before the voting day, reached its peak during the voting and the result and then dropped immediately afterwards,” the paper to be released by researchers says.
“The main conclusion is that bots were used on purpose and had influence,” Tho Pam, one of the paper’s main authors, adds.
The Russian accounts were most active on the day of the referendum (Thursday, June 23) and following day (Friday, June 24) when the final result became clear. The accounts posted over 39,000 tweets on Friday, June 24.