ICCT Associate Fellow J.M. Berger on ABC News

On 12 April 2017, ICCT Research Fellow J.M. Berger was interviewed by ABC News, discussing the Russian influence campaign behind the ‘#SyriaHoax’ hashtag on Twitter, which gained traction in the United States among popular alt-right personalities.

Following the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians on 4 April, Al-Masdar News, a pro-Assad website, published claims that reports about the chemical attacks were false. Soon after, ‘#SyriaHoax’ became a trending topic on Twitter. According to Berger, the hashtag is “a clear example of a Russian influence campaign” with the purpose of “[getting] people involved who wouldn’t otherwise be involved”. While Berger could not say whether Al-Masdar News is backed by either the governments of Syria or Russia, he described the outlet as “being promoted at an extraordinary level in this [Russian] network”. This type of disinformation is nothing new, however, as similar campaigns were also carried out during the Soviet era. The main difference, according to Berger, is that the internet provides an opportunity to spread disinformation “on an industrial scale at a very low cost without deploying actual operatives on the ground of a foreign country”.

Watch and read the interview.