An expert in Russian cyber-operations has accused Russian activists of running a disinformation campaign to discredit the Scottish independence referendum result, by wrongly alleging it was rigged. Pro-Russian propagandists used Twitter, fake videos on YouTube and Facebook accounts to make and then spread false allegations that votes were interfered with to ensure victory for pro-UK campaigners, according to Ben Nimmo, an analyst for the US thinktank the Atlantic Council, which is part of the Atlantic Treaty Organisation linked to Nato. Nimmo said the ongoing inquiries into allegations the Kremlin tried to subvert last year’s EU referendum and US election should be widened to cover this operation, and to test whether the Russians sought to influence Scottish voters before the referendum on 18 September 2014.
He stressed he did not have proof the disinformation campaign was orchestrated by the Kremlin, but said there was a clear need for official investigations and internal reviews by social media companies.
“The allegations of fraud demonstrably had an impact; pro-Kremlin accounts demonstrably boosted those allegations. The anger and disappointment felt by many Yes voters were entirely sincere [and] those sentiments were fanned by pro-Kremlin trolls, in a manner characteristic of Russian influence operations,” Nimmo reports.
The UK’s intelligence watchdog, the intelligence and security committee, was urged last month to investigate evidence the Russians set up thousands of Twitter accounts to influence the EU referendum and its aftermath, through so-called “troll factories” in St Petersburg.