Skip to main content

How did Russian and Iranian trolls’ disinformation toward Canadian issues diverge and converge?

Abstract

The study analyzes Russian and Iranian trolls’ intervention in Canadian politics focusing on the 2015 election, revealing a wide spectrum of disinformation. Russian trolls showed some support for then prime minister Stephen Harper and were very critical of the current prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Also, they closely aligned themselves with conservative and far-right figures, while Iranian trolls supported the far left as well as the Palestinian cause. Iranian trolls frequently attacked the former prime minister, Harper, falsely accusing him of being a CIA agent and an ISIS supporter. However, Russian and Iranian trolls converged around the issue of the conflict in Syria with both showing support for Bashar Assad’s regime and animosity toward the Syrian White Helmets group.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. Interestingly, I found some discrepancy in the number of hashed tweets that exceeded the number of unhashed tweets for both Russian and Iranian trolls.

  2. The keywords I used for the Russian trolls datasets are the following ones (30 words in English and 23 ones in Russian): 'Harper', 'Mulcair', 'Bernier', 'Blanchet', 'canada', 'canadian', 'trudeau', 'justintrudeau', 'toronto', 'montreal', 'vancouver', 'ottawa', 'onpoli', 'polqc', 'cdnpoli', 'scheer', 'thejagmeetsingh', 'jagmeet singh', 'topoli', 'quebec', 'qcpoli', 'halifax', 'edmonton', 'calgary', 'alberta', 'ontario', 'winnipeg', 'manitoba', 'saskatchewan', 'british columbia', 'Муллер', 'Берниер', 'Бланцхет', 'Харпер','Канада', 'канадский', 'трюдо', 'торонто', 'монреаль', 'ванкувер', 'оттава', 'Эндрю Шеер', 'джагмит сингх', 'Квебек', 'Галифакс', 'Эдмонтон', 'Калгари', 'Альберта', 'Онтарио', 'Виннипег', 'Манитоба', 'Саскачеван', 'Британская Колумбия'. As for keywords I used for the Iranian trolls datasets, they include the following ones (30 words in English and 21 ones in Persian): مالچایر' ,,'مانیتوبا','هالیفاکس','کبک','اوتوا','ونکوور','برنیه' ,'بلانشت' ,'کانادا' ,'کانادایی' ,'ترودو' ,'تورنتو' ,'مونترال', 'ادمونتون' ,'ساسکاچوان' ,'کلگری','آلبرتا' ,'وینیپگ' ,'آنتاریو', 'جاگمیت سین','بریتیش کلمبیا','Harper', 'Mulcair', 'Bernier', 'Blanchet', 'canada', 'canadian', 'trudeau', 'justintrudeau', 'toronto', 'montreal', 'vancouver', 'ottawa', 'onpoli', 'polqc', 'cdnpoli', 'scheer', 'thejagmeetsingh', 'jagmeet singh', 'topoli', 'quebec', 'qcpoli', 'halifax', 'edmonton', 'calgary', 'alberta', 'ontario', 'winnipeg', 'manitoba', 'saskatchewan', 'british columbia'.

  3. The user describes himself as follows: “Unofficial Twitter of Tennessee Republicans. Covering breaking news, national politics, foreign policy and more. #MAGA #2A.”

  4. This user describes himself as follows: “Proud TEXAN and AMERICAN patriot #2a #prolife #Trump2016 #TrumpPence16 Fuck Islam and PC. Don't mess with Texas!”.

  5. Despite all the evidence, Rebel Media never deleted or retracted the false claims on the real perpetrator of the Quebec Mosque shooting, even suggesting it was an inside job (The Rebel Media 2017a) or casting doubt about the actual narrative suggesting there is a conspiracy. Such videos can still be found on YouTube (nwC76n99jiY) (gV62pqS7AAA) which garnered over half a million views.

  6. Though it is not a political theme, @TEN_GOP also disseminated disinformation about a nonexistent explosion in Toronto on May 1, 2017, stating: “BREAKING NEWS: A huge explosion has been reported in #Toronto, Canada. https://t.co/DHohfpf8Bq.” The fabricated message got 988 retweets, and Twitter users’ replies to this imaginary incident are still available online and can be viewed in the following link: https://twitter.com/TEN_GOP/status/859165715286417408.

  7. The actual Russian-language tweet reads as follows: “Канадский премьер назвал стрельбу в Квебеке терактом против мусульман. А Холокост тогда был терактом  против немецкого народа.”

  8. The original tweet mentions the following: “Un lien entre recruteur de l'Etat islamique et l'ambassade du Canada en Jordanie s'ébruite http://t.co/SOVTE9mZQD.”

  9. Global Research site is known to disseminate disinformation favorable toward Syria, Iran, and Russia (Ahmad 2017) including conspiracy theories about the US supporting ISIS (Cartalucci 2015; Hagopian 2015). Such false claims can also be found in the reports of the state-run Russian news channel, Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) (see, for example, Sputnik 2017).

  10. The cyber security company ClearSky stated that Whatsupic got its news in different languages from RT.com (ClearSky 2018, p. 40). In fact, Whatsupic was referenced 593 times by Iranian trolls, indicating the heavy reliance on this disinformation platform.

  11. The tweet can be translated into: “Reminder: In Canada, freedom is for everyone. #M103 (see the full speech of March 2015: http://bit.ly/2kOs3BK ).”

  12. It seems that this username was later changed into @libertyfrontp (n = 21) (Table 2).

  13. The Instagram account of this Iranian propaganda Web site is still available online and can be accessed here: https://www.instagram.com/countdown2040.com_insta/.

References

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ahmed Al-Rawi.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

The study is conducted as part of the SSHRC funded project (No. 430-2019-00100) entitled “Fake News perceptions and discourses on social media and Canadian mainstream media.”

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Al-Rawi, A. How did Russian and Iranian trolls’ disinformation toward Canadian issues diverge and converge?. Digi War 2, 21–34 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s42984-020-00029-4

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s42984-020-00029-4

Keywords

  • Disinformation
  • Russian trolls
  • Canada
  • Iranian trolls
  • Stephen Harper
  • Justin Trudeau