April 13, 2022 | BBC

Tracking Putin’s “superfans:” An investigation by ISD and the BBC

Researchers at ISD joined a BBC investigation on a network of Putin “superfans” on Facebook committed to depicting the Russian president as “smiling, benevolent and peace-loving” and “standing up against the West”. One of their tactics: dozens of dog-embracing pictures.

ISD identified 10 pro-Putin groups with more than 650,000 members between them, and overlapping “fans” listed as page admins—many with multiple accounts under the same name. In the past month since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we counted 16,500 posts by these groups, receiving more than 3.6 mill interactions. Some of those interactions pushed by the admins themselves.

Lead researcher Moustafa Ayad explains that this practice is an example of “astroturfing”—when “an online operation involving multiple accounts that falsely gives something the impression of wider grassroots support”.

Our report The Vladimirror Network: Pro-Putin Power-Users on Facebook can be found here.

Moustafa is the current Executive Director at ISD for Africa, the Middle East and Asia (AMEA).