Russian “Trolls” turn to Western AI for their disinformation campaigns

The Bell

Russian internet trolls have been caught using Western AI to generate and spread disinformation about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s own homegrown AI-powered services aren’t up to the task since they are coded to refuse to answer questions related to the war in order to avoid breaking strict military censorship laws.

  • Over the last three months, OpenAI — the creator of ChatGPT — has exposed five covert influence campaigns, including two carried out by groups based in Russia that had used artificial intelligence to create a huge amount of content related to the war in Ukraine. In one of the schemes, Russian trolls used OpenAI’s language model to write commentaries in English, French, German, Italian and Polish that were then published on X and the 9GAG platform. In another that OpenAI dubbed “Bad Grammar”, the trolls used OpenAI to generate and post short political comments in English and Russian on Telegram channels, with the content aimed at audiences in Ukraine, Molova, the Baltics and the United States.
  • Russian trolls have been forced to use foreign AI services because their Russian equivalents are essentially censored. Chatbots developed by Russian IT companies refuse to answer questions about the war in Ukraine. For example, voice assistants will not say “what happened” in Bucha, a town near Kyiv where Russian soldiers notoriously slaughtered civilians.
  • Alexander Krainov, a top manager of Yandex (the so-called Russian Google), said that if a question refers to a topic on which some responses or opinions carry the threat of criminal prosecution, the service refuses to answer. He added that this is the best his company can do. “Because, if we had answered poorly, we would most likely have been banned,” said Krainov.

Why the world should care

Russian chat-bots have to operate under censorship, an approach which erases certain topics from their generative models. That does not mean that the average Russian internet user cannot find out what happened in Bucha — Russian censorship is still a long way from the Great Firewall of China.


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