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Mapping Memetic Images : An Analysis of Russian Cyber Troop Activity

Show simple item record 2020-03-17T06:32:06Z 2020-03-17T06:32:06Z 2020-03-17
dc.title Mapping Memetic Images : An Analysis of Russian Cyber Troop Activity en
ethesis.discipline.URI none
ethesis.faculty Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta fi
ethesis.faculty Faculty of Social Sciences en
ethesis.faculty Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten sv
ethesis.faculty.URI Helsingin yliopisto fi University of Helsinki en Helsingfors universitet sv
dct.creator Mantell, Gabrielle
dct.issued 2020
dct.language.ISO639-2 eng
dct.abstract Social media was initially viewed as a democratising force that allowed anyone to participate in political discourse, however in recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of state-sponsored cyber troops using these technologies to spread disinformation and computational propaganda with the intent to influence the behaviour and opinions of individuals, sow chaos and confusion and undermine social cohesion. In recent years, Russia has emerged as the global leader in developing and deploying these tactics against foreign nations, conducting operations on an industrial scale through what are colloquially termed ‘troll factories,’ the most famous of which is the Internet Research Agency (IRA). This study examines images produced by Twitter accounts attributed to the IRA and the corresponding account-level metadata, in order to understand how cyber troops are using Twitter to propagate memetic content and in what ways tactics differ based upon Russian strategic culture. This study also looks at how a nation’s perceived geopolitical position can be interpreted through analysing the output of state-sponsored digital actors. Key to the success of these tactics is the dissemination of weaponised information that spreads ‘virally’ from person to person. For this reason, memetics is employed as a theoretical framework. Strategic culture is also used as an analytical tool to interpret the objectives behind Russian cyber troop activity. The research design of this study comprises three phases. First, images that occur in the dataset 5 or more times are computationally clustered, producing 1,346 clusters of visually similar images, representing 11,742 images in total. Qualitative Content Analysis is then used to create a coding framework which categorises the content of each cluster, capturing three primary dimensions: mode of delivery, type of message and country of focus. Finally, account-level metadata is analysed to determine key account characteristics, providing insight into five factors: location, account lifespan (age), language, activity and originality. Each of these factors is then cross tabulated with five regions: Russia, Post-Soviet, Europe, USA and Rest of World. The findings of this study indicate that IRA actors have pursued a multidirectional strategy based upon Russian strategic culture, in which highly political information is distributed to target audiences primarily in Russia, USA, Europe and Ukraine. The type of information spread is predominantly photographic in nature. Images of public figures and other types of political imagery frequently occur in the dataset, as do images that reinforce an insider/outsider dichotomy. Neutral images are also strategically utilised to construct Twitter accounts that appear authentic, thereby maximising the propagation rate of targeted information. When looking at references made to countries, Russia and the USA emerge as the primary centres of focus. However, when geo-visually plotted on a map, the data indicates that, as the space between these two powers, the European region is commensurate in strategic significance. Ukraine is also prioritised as a fulcrum between the Russian and Western spheres of influence, highlighting divergence in interpretations of how to define Europe and its boundaries. These findings suggest that as Russia vies for digital sociopolitical influence in the West, Europe emerges as a key strategic space between the evolving perception of ‘us’ and ‘them’. en
dct.subject Information warfare
dct.subject memetic
dct.subject Russia
dct.subject strategic culture
dct.subject cyber
dct.subject social media
dct.subject trolling
dct.subject computational propaganda
dct.subject disinformation
dct.subject computational social science
dct.subject geopolitics
dct.subject international relations
dct.language en
ethesis.language English en
ethesis.language englanti fi
ethesis.language engelska sv
ethesis.supervisor Malkki, Leena
ethesis.thesistype pro gradu -tutkielmat fi
ethesis.thesistype master's thesis en
ethesis.thesistype pro gradu-avhandlingar sv
dct.identifier.ethesis E-thesisID:958ed87f-db26-45e5-8c43-96b4fde4614b
ethesis-internal.timestamp.reviewStep 2020-02-18 12:57:33:585
dct.identifier.urn URN:NBN:fi:hulib-202003171574
dc.type.dcmitype Text
ethesis.facultystudyline Social Sciences Study Track fi
ethesis.facultystudyline Social Sciences Study Track en
ethesis.facultystudyline Social Sciences Study Track sv
ethesis.mastersdegreeprogram Euroopan ja pohjoismaiden tutkimuksen maisteriohjelma (European and Nordic Studies) fi
ethesis.mastersdegreeprogram Master's Programme in European and Nordic Studies en
ethesis.mastersdegreeprogram Magisterprogrammet i Europa- och Nordenstudier sv

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