Mark W. Perry is the lead information warfare researcher at the John and Mary Frances Patton Peace and War Center at Norwich University. He is also an adjunct professor at Norwich University’s Leahy School of Cybersecurity and Advanced Computing, where he teaches digital threat analysis and open-source research methods. He has an MA in international policy and development from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California. His research interests include social cybersecurity, international relations, and comparative politics. Mark’s publications explore the strategies and tactics with which nation states craft narratives and wield influence in competition and conflict.
Arman Irani is a 3rd year PhD candidate in Computer Science at the University of California, Riverside, with a focus in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and its application in comprehending and quantifying online interactions. His research interests lie in the exploration of deliberation dynamics within online forums, with a particular emphasis on dissecting the discourse that occurs on platforms such as Reddit and Telegram and the relationship between real-world events and online conversations. Arman’s publications delve into the realms of domain-specific keyword expansion, sentiment analysis, and the development of robust frameworks for quantifying discourse encompassing contentious subjects.
Terminal veracity: How Russian media uses telegram to manufacture objectivity on the battlefield
This paper explores the relationship between Russian media and telegram channels covering the war in Ukraine in order to assess their cross-platform narrative tactics, propagation pipelines, and implications for conflict resolution and countering disinformation. Using state-of-the-art machine learning techniques, we identify the sentiments and stances actors hold towards events occurring on the ground, as well as the argumentative tactics exploited by each party. Next, a network analysis examines the disinformation supply chain between Russian media outlets, the Telegram channels they cite as sources of evidence, and the channels that amplify these sources. Lastly, a comparative analysis of pro-Russian disinformation and pro-Ukrainian debunking efforts in response to the use of cluster munitions on the Kramatorsk train station underscores the implications of our findings for countering disinformation in cyberwar. As a result, we identify both network and semantic maneuvers with which Russian influence operations leverage Telegram to shape perceptions of the conflict, particularly through repeated documentation of weapons systems and their alleged connection to events on the ground.
Our analysis finds strong evidence that Russian media and Telegram channels co-opt the language of fact-based reporting and open-source intelligence in their coverage of the war in Ukraine, and that Telegram channels serve as crucial suppliers of seemingly objective ‘evidence’ for outlets providing updates from the frontlines. Moreover, participating pro-Russian Telegram channels exhibit various dissemination roles associated with their levels of obfuscation and state-control: the channels of proxy authorities tend to seed, war correspondents copy, while officials and anonymous channels amplify information.
The scale, language and platform dynamics leveraged by Russian information warfare in Ukraine present unique challenges to research and defense communities geared towards fact-checking emotional and evaluative language on Western social media platforms. Future work should explore the function of citations and ‘objectivity’ in disinformation supply chains, their relation to narrative construction, and the effectiveness of disinformation countermeasures on Telegram.