Reddit says a Russian disinformation operation appeared to be “tied to” the dissemination on its online discussion platform of classified UK-US trade documents that were used by the Labour party in its recent election campaigning.
The social media site said on Friday that it had examined the account that had first posted the leaked 451-page “dossier” of UK government documents and discovered a network of dozens of accounts that appeared to be manipulating its system in order to promote the post.
According to the company, the group of accounts had “the same shared pattern” of behaviour as a disinformation campaign that used social media sites such as Facebook and Reddit, which researchers believe was directed by the Kremlin. Revealed in June, that campaign was dubbed “Secondary Infektion”.
“Suspect accounts on Reddit were recently reported to us, along with indicators from law enforcement, and we were able to confirm that they did indeed show a pattern of co-ordination,” Reddit said.
“All of these accounts have the same shared pattern as the original Secondary Infektion group detected, causing us to believe that this was indeed tied to the original group.”
The discovery is an embarrassment to Labour after party leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the papers at a press conference last month, saying they proved the NHS would be “up for sale” if Boris Johnson were to forge a post-Brexit trade deal with the US — claims that the UK prime minister denies. It is unclear how the documents first came to the attention of the Labour party.
Friday’s statement comes amid rising public concern over the potential for foreign interference in the forthcoming general election, and as the UK government’s refusal to publish a report by its intelligence and security committee about possible Russian manipulation in the Brexit referendum has angered critics.
Reddit said it was banning 61 accounts and one messaging thread under its “policies against vote manipulation and misuse of the platform”.
The potential link to Secondary Infektion first came to light after researchers at US social media analysis group Graphika and Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council published a report earlier this week saying the tactics first mirrored those used by the group.
For example, the leaks were amplified elsewhere online on the exact same set of websites used by the Russian operation via a similar type of one-off “burner” accounts. They also made similar language errors, indicative of non-native language speakers, the report said.
Secondary Infektion itself was first uncovered by Facebook, who linked it to Russia, and then examined by the Atlantic Council, who found that it had used fake accounts, forged documents and “dozens of online platforms” to spread stories that attacked western interests and unity.