US Officials Uncover Alleged Russian ‘Bot Farm’

US officials have taken action against a Russian-run AI-powered information operation, which included nearly 1,000 accounts pretending to be Americans. 

These accounts on the social media platform X were designed to spread pro-Russian stories but were actually automated "bots" and not real people.

According to court documents released on Tuesday, the US Justice Department revealed that this operation was orchestrated by a deputy editor at RT (formerly Russia Today), a Kremlin-owned media outlet. While RT operates TV channels in multiple languages, it has a larger presence on social media than on traditional airwaves.

The Justice Department seized two websites that were used to create emails for these bot accounts and ordered X to provide information on 968 accounts identified as bots. 

The court documents indicate that artificial intelligence was used to create and manage these accounts, which spread pro-Russian narratives, particularly about the war in Ukraine.

FBI Director Christopher Wray stated, "Today’s actions represent a first in disrupting a Russian-sponsored generative AI-enhanced social media bot farm." He added that Russia intended to use this bot farm to spread AI-generated disinformation, aiming to undermine support for Ukraine and influence global opinions in favor of the Russian government.

The bot accounts have now been deleted from X, and screenshots provided by FBI investigators show that these accounts had very few followers.

The court documents also detailed that this “bot farm” was conceived by an RT deputy editor-in-chief as a new method for distributing stories. RT America shut down after major US cable TV providers dropped it following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

Another RT employee developed the network, and later a Russian intelligence officer joined the effort. The Justice Department described this as an attempt "to sow discord in the United States by spreading misinformation."

Anna Belkina, RT's deputy editor-in-chief, responded to the BBC via email, humorously denying the accusations: "I’m more than happy to tend to my farm (dacha) - made up mostly of tomatoes and strawberries, but sadly without any help from the FSB," referring to the Russian security service.

While no criminal charges have been announced, the Justice Department stated that the investigation is ongoing. 

Nina Jankowicz, head of the American Sunlight Project, a non-profit organization combating disinformation, said it was not surprising that a Russian-linked operation used AI to create fake accounts. 

She noted that the technology has streamlined what was once a time-consuming task, but the operation appears to have been stopped before gaining significant traction. "Artificial intelligence is now clearly part of the disinformation arsenal," she said.

The BBC has reached out to X and the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment. In a related investigation, the BBC uncovered details of another Russia-based disinformation network using AI-generated fake news sites.

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