US officials discover alleged Russian 'bot farm'

U.S. officials say they have taken action against an AI-based intelligence operation run from Russia that involved nearly 1,000 accounts posing as Americans.

The accounts on X were designed to spread pro-Russian stories, but they were automated “bots” – not real people.

In court documents made public on Tuesday, the US Justice Department said the operation was masterminded by a deputy editor at the Kremlin-owned channel RT, formerly Russia Today.

RT broadcasts television channels in English and several other languages, but appears to be much more popular on social media than on regular airwaves.

The Justice Department seized two websites used to distribute email addresses associated with the bot accounts and ordered X to provide information about 968 accounts that researchers believe were bots.

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

“Today’s actions are the first to disrupt a Russian-sponsored generative, AI-enhanced social media bot farm,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“Russia planned to use this bot farm to spread AI-generated foreign disinformation, and to scale their work using AI to undermine our partners in Ukraine and influence geopolitical narratives favorable to the Russian government,” Wray said in a statement.

It appears the accounts were deleted by X, and screenshots shared by FBI investigators show the accounts had very few followers.

The court documents detail how the so-called “bot farm” was the brainchild of an RT deputy editor looking for new ways to spread stories. RT America was shuttered when several major U.S. cable TV providers shut down shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Another RT employee developed the network, the court documents said, and a Russian intelligence officer later joined the effort, which the Justice Department described as an attempt “to sow division in the United States by spreading disinformation.”

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

Nina Jankowicz, director of the American Sunlight Project, a nonprofit that works to combat the spread of disinformation, said it was not surprising that a Russia-linked operation used AI to create fake accounts.

“This used to be one of the most time-consuming parts of their job; now it's much smoother because of the technologies that made this operation possible,” she said, noting that the operation appears to have been thwarted before it could get underway.

“Artificial intelligence is now clearly part of the disinformation arsenal,” Ms. Jankowicz said.

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

A recent BBC investigation revealed details of a separate effort to bolster a Russia-based disinformation networkthrough the use of fake news sites filled with stories rewritten by AI.

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