US authorities discover suspected Russian ‘bot farm’

U.S. authorities said they had taken action against a Russian-run AI-enabled intelligence operation that included about 1,000 accounts posing as Americans.

The X account was created to spread a pro-Russian narrative, but was an automated “bot” and not a real person.

The Justice Department said in court documents unsealed on Tuesday that the operation was devised by a deputy editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-owned news agency RT, formerly Russia Today.

RT operates television channels in English and several other languages, but appears to be much more popular on social media than through traditional broadcasting.

The Justice Department seized two websites that were used to publish emails related to the bot accounts and ordered X to turn over information about 968 accounts that investigators say are bots.

Court documents say artificial intelligence was used to create the accounts, which spread pro-Russian narratives, particularly about the war in Ukraine.

“Today’s action marks the first attempt to disrupt a Russian-backed generative, AI-enhanced social media bot farm,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

“Russia used this bot farm to spread AI-generated foreign disinformation and expand its AI-assisted operations in an effort to undermine Ukrainian partners and influence geopolitical narratives in favor of the Russian government,” Wray said in a statement.

These accounts now appear to have been deleted by X, and screenshots shared by FBI agents show that they had very few followers.

Court documents detail how the so-called “bot farm” was the brainchild of an RT deputy editor-in-chief who was looking for new ways to distribute stories. RT America was shut down after several major U.S. cable companies canceled its subscriptions to the service shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

According to court documents, another RT employee developed the network, which was later joined by Russian intelligence officers, in what the Justice Department described as an attempt to “spread disinformation and sow discord in the United States.”

“I enjoy looking after my farm (dacha), where tomatoes and strawberries are the main crops, but unfortunately I am not getting any help from Russia’s security service, the FSB,” RT deputy editor-in-chief Anna Belkina told the BBC in an email.

No criminal charges have been made public in the case, but the Justice Department said the investigation is ongoing.

Nina Jankowitz, director of the American Sunlight Project, a nonprofit that works to combat the spread of disinformation, said it wasn’t surprising that groups with ties to Russia were using AI to create fake accounts.

“This used to be the most time-consuming part of their job, but now the technology that supports this operation makes it much smoother,” she said, noting that the operation appears to have been thwarted before it could gain momentum.

“Artificial intelligence is clearly part of the disinformation arsenal,” Jankowitz said.

The BBC has contacted Mr X and the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.

A recent BBC survey It detailed another attempt to bolster a Russia-based disinformation network.By using a fake news site that published articles rewritten by AI.

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