The Same Russian Troll Accounts Tweeting Election Propaganda Were Also Tweeting about UFOs and Ancient Mysteries
I’ve received quite a bit of criticism for my conclusion that the Russian government has purposely promoted UFO and ancient astronaut beliefs as part of their propaganda efforts aimed at destabilizing the West. As part of that campaign, Russian trolls and bots made more than one million tweets to influence the 2016 election. Twitter recently deleted those tweets in an effort to clean up its service, but NBC News published a spreadsheet containing 200,000 tweets from Russian propaganda accounts sent in 2016 and 2017. A significant, though not overlarge, number of Russian propaganda tweets were about UFOs, ancient astronauts, and ancient mysteries.
Here are a few representative samples of the Russian retweets. I have stripped them of the linked articles to avoid promoting bottom-feeding clickbait and propaganda sites.
“Ancient Hopi Claim Their Ancestors Came From The Inner World.”
Almost all of the tweets were retweets from fringe sources, with little to no original content. The sources include Coast to Coast AM, Disclose TV, World Truth TV, Prison Planet, Before It’s News, and The Rundown Live, apparently selected from among all possible sources to amplify conspiracy theories about aliens and UFOS alongside more political conspiracy theories and outright propaganda for Trump. (Disclosure: I once appeared on The Rundown Live.) It’s interesting that I wasn’t able to find direct mention of Ancient Aliens, perhaps because the trolls purposely sought to amplify the dodgiest claims from the least reliable sources, or didn’t want to call too much attention to themselves. There was one retweet about the History Channel: “I don't want to be a victim on a future history channel show. So do me a favor and think.” It got retweeted because its author is an NRA member and a Trump super-fan who tweets arch-conservative political statements.
It’s true that the tweets contain myriad subjects unrelated to politics, including tweets about food, football, shopping, the Kardashians, etc. UFOs and ancient mysteries are a small but significant percentage of the tweets. For example, there are hundreds of UFO tweets, but only a handful for astrology, a comparably popular pseudoscientific belief. Like other tweets not explicitly serving as political propaganda, they seemed designed to attract targeted demographics to Russian propaganda accounts. This might also explain why there is another large bloc of hundreds of tweets devoted to The Walking Dead, a program that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, told Forbes was specifically targeted for ads by the Trump campaign because its viewers were the most likely in the television audience to vote Trump. By contrast, TV’s highest rated sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, warranted only a handful of tweets, most involving a controversy over Mayim Bialik’s comments on Muslims and Israel.
There is method in the madness, but it will take someone with more time and resources to quantify the hundreds of thousands of tweets in order to better understand how UFO and ancient mystery stories were used and for what purpose. But a similar research study conducted with this same database of tweets by scholars at Johns Hopkins University regarding vaccine denialism found that Russian trolls were “significantly” morel likely to tweet about vaccines than “average Twitter users,” though how one quantifies an average Twitter user must be open to debate. “These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society,” said the authors of the study. I have no doubt that the UFO material served a similar purpose.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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