A major operation to influence public opinion saw comments posted on Western media articles in support of Russian interests, according to new research.
Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute found 32 prominent media websites across 16 countries were targeted including Mail Online, the Express and the Times.
The comments were fed back into Russian-language media outlets as the basis for stories, researchers said.
The tactic was spotted this year.
But the operation is believed to have been escalating since at least 2018 and recently focused on the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This Cardiff researchers say it was one of 18 recent stories on the fall of Kabul that were produced using reader comments in the UK and US, supporting Russia’s narrative about the end of liberal democracy, the failure of Nato or made a link to the willingness to support Ukraine.
The Cardiff team say this was just the latest part of a long-running campaign.
They identified 242 stories where provocative pro-Russian or anti-Western statements were posted in reaction to articles relevant to Russia.
Researchers used pattern recognition techniques to analyse reader comments, which suggested some accounts were posting pro-Kremlin content in an organised manner.
The work was undertaken by the Open Source Communications Analytics Research programme at Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute and was funded by UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.