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Characterizing the Use of Images in State-Sponsored Information Warfare Operations by Russian Trolls on Twitter


Zannettou,  Savvas
Internet Architecture, MPI for Informatics, Max Planck Society;

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Zannettou, S., Caulfield, T., Bradlyn, B., De Cristofaro, E., Stringhini, G., & Blackburn, J. (2019). Characterizing the Use of Images in State-Sponsored Information Warfare Operations by Russian Trolls on Twitter. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/abs/1901.05997.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-767F-9
State-sponsored organizations are increasingly linked to efforts aimed to
exploit social media for information warfare and manipulating public opinion.
Typically, their activities rely on a number of social network accounts they
control, aka trolls, that post and interact with other users disguised as
"regular" users. These accounts often use images and memes, along with textual
content, in order to increase the engagement and the credibility of their
In this paper, we present the first study of images shared by state-sponsored
accounts by analyzing a ground truth dataset of 1.8M images posted to Twitter
by accounts controlled by the Russian Internet Research Agency. First, we
analyze the content of the images as well as their posting activity. Then,
using Hawkes Processes, we quantify their influence on popular Web communities
like Twitter, Reddit, 4chan's Politically Incorrect board (/pol/), and Gab,
with respect to the dissemination of images. We find that the extensive image
posting activity of Russian trolls coincides with real-world events (e.g., the
Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville), and shed light on their targets as
well as the content disseminated via images. Finally, we show that the trolls
were more effective in disseminating politics-related imagery than other