Russians have flooded Facebook and Twitter as they organise unprecedented protests against Vladimir Putin‘s United Russia party. But they are not alone. Thousands of Twitter accounts appear to have been created with the sole purpose of drowning out opposition voices by flooding the service’s hashtag search function.
The automated attacks have dumped a blizzard of meaningless tweets with hashtags such as #Navalny, on which tweets about Alexei Navalny are collated, making it impossible to follow the flow of news about the arrested opposition leader. Many of the so-called “Twitter bots” have now been shut down.
The flood of fake tweets came after liberal websites, including the LiveJournal blogging platform, the website for radio station Ekho Moskvy and weekly journal Bolshoi Gorod , were shut down by distributed denial of service attacks on Sunday, the day of Russia’s disputed parliamentary vote.
The website for Golos, an independent election monitor, was also shut down. Golos employees complained this week that their email had been hacked and inaccessible for several days. On Friday, tabloid Life News published employees’ private emails, detailing correspondence with the US development agency – presented as “proof” that the group was acting on foreign orders to disrupt the Russian election.
The most interesting hack attack, however, came via a more antiquated instrument – the telephone. On Thursday, the liberal Yabloko party and newspaper Novaya Gazeta said their telephone lines had been paralysed by endless calls featuring a recorded female voice: “Putin is very good. Putin loves you. Putin makes your life happy. Love Putin and your life will fill with meaning. Putin does everything for you. Remember, Putin does everything just for you. Putin is life. Putin is light. Without Putin, life has no meaning. Putin is your protector. Putin is your saviour.” Over and over again.