DOJ Disrupts Suspected Russian Bot Farm

The Department of Justice disrupted a suspected Russian bot farm, seizing two internet domains, while hundreds of social media accounts were shut down.
DOJ Disrupts Suspected Russian Bot Farm
The Department of Justice building in Washington on June 28, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Ryan Morgan
Updated:
0:00

The Department of Justice recently seized control of two internet domains and searched 968 accounts on social media platform X, which it accused of helping spread disinformation for the Russian government.

The seizures were part of an FBI investigation into an alleged artificial intelligence-enhanced social media bot farm that has created hundreds of fake social media profiles purportedly of U.S. residents, according to a June 27 search warrant affidavit. The affidavit says the accounts promoted messages that support Russian government objectives.

Federal investigators alleged that Russian actors bought the U.S.-based domains MLRTR.com and Otanmail.com, then used them to create email accounts to register the 968 accounts on X.

The investigators allege that a deputy editor-in-chief at the Russian news agency Russia Today started the effort to create the bot accounts in early 2022 as a way to distribute the agency’s content online.

The Justice Department contends that the editor failed to clear the purchase of the two U.S.-based domains through the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, as required by U.S. federal law.

The search warrant affidavit alleges that an officer with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) became aware of the Russia Today editor’s bot farm in 2023 and formed a private intelligence organization, with sign-off from Russian President Vladimir Putin, to partner with and co-opt the bot farm to advance Russian government interests. Investigators say this organization sought to use the bot farm to sow discord within the United States “by spreading misinformation through the social media accounts created by the bot farm.”

“With these actions, the Justice Department has disrupted a Russian-government backed, AI-enabled propaganda campaign to use a bot farm to spread disinformation in the United States and abroad,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a July 9 statement.

“As the Russian government continues to wage its brutal war in Ukraine and threatens democracies around the world, the Justice Department will continue to deploy all of our legal authorities to counter Russian aggression and protect the American people.”

The investigators said the social media accounts posted content supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine and characterizing areas of Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania—which the Soviet Union freed from Nazi German control during World War II—as Russian gifts to the current inhabitants of those countries.

The search warrant affidavit flagged a November 2023 post by one alleged bot account, which posted a video claiming that the number of foreign fighters who had volunteered to fight alongside Ukrainian forces was significantly lower than public estimates. The affidavit stated that this same account created another post nine days later claiming the war in Ukraine is not a territorial conflict or a matter of geopolitical balance but rather the “principles on which the New World Order will be based.”

The Epoch Times reached out for additional details about the activity of the suspected bot accounts, but the Justice Department did not respond by press time.

The department cited federal anti-money laundering and sanctions laws to justify their seizure of the two internet domains and search of the suspect social media accounts.

Following the account searches, the Justice Department stated that X voluntarily suspended the suspected bot accounts for violating the platform’s terms of service.