Technology

US Says Russia Used AI-Powered Bots in Disinformation Scheme

Russian Cyrillic Keyboard. Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2019. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- The US government disrupted a Russian disinformation effort that used artificial intelligence-powered bots to create fake social media profiles on X, officials said on Tuesday.

An editor at a Russian state media outlet developed software to create a bot farm as part of a project that was funded by a member of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday by the Department of Justice. From June to December, nearly 1,000 accounts were part of a campaign that impersonated Americans and promoted pro-Russian government messaging.

One profile claimed to be a user based in Minneapolis, Minnesota who joined X in June 2023. That account posted a purported video of Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that parts of Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania became part of Russia following World War II. Another profile that was identified as a “Sue Williamson” living in Gresham, Oregon posted a video that disputed the number of foreign fighters embedded with Ukrainian troops. 

X voluntarily suspended the bot accounts identified in the court documents for terms of service violations, according to the Justice Department. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The bot farm was organized by an individual who worked in 2022 as the deputy editor-in-chief at RT, a Russian government-funded media agency, according to an affidavit included in the government filings. The documents didn’t disclose the identity of the individual. 

That person continues to work at RT and since 2023 has led a digital media department. That’s where the software for the bot farm was developed, according to the US. A Russian intelligence officer approved and funded the project, according to the affidavit.

“Farming is a beloved pastime for millions of Russians,” an RT spokesperson said in a statement. 

People associated with the bot farm also transferred funds internationally to purchase two domain names from a US-based company in order to create private email servers, the court filings said. Those were used to create email addresses that enabled the creation of at least 968 fictitious social media accounts, according to the US government.

“Russia intended to use this bot farm to disseminate AI-generated foreign disinformation, scaling their work with the assistance of AI to undermine our partners in Ukraine and influence geopolitical narratives favorable to the Russian government,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement.

Additionally, the FBI and partners including the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service and the Netherlands Police released a joint cybersecurity advisory detailing the technology behind the social media bot farm.

(Updated to include statement from RT in seventh paragraph.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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