SCOTLAND’S social media users have been targeted by “hostile state and non-state actors” according to a report to be released later today.

The report entitled Triptrapping – Scotland And Social Media and subtitled Trolls Under The Bridge was carried out by social media expert James Patrick, with his research funded by SNP Member of the European Parliament Alyn Smith.

Patrick concentrated on the activity of botnets, known as bots, which are automated accounts that can be classed as malign or benign. Malign is defined as “aimed at influencing public discourse by amplifying false, inaccurate, or dangerous information, and shows signs of tasking to these ends”.

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He also looked at benign bots and trolling activity in a total of 27,000 Twitter accounts, with 9981 being focused upon as they are openly set within Scotland.

A total of 34,694,191 tweets were collected for analysis thanks to the technical expertise of Neal Rauhauser, a botnet forensic expert, using his Netwar System utility.

According to the report, some 4.25% of Scottish Twitter activity is identifiable as potentially malign, though this rises to a maximum of 12.24% in an assessment of certain account types.

Of the 36.4 million tweets analysed, a potential maximum of 4.2m tweets could be malign.

A lot of Scottish Twitter malign bot activity centred on Catalonia. After analysing accounts, Patrick concluded: “The topic was partly driven into Scottish Twitter by foreign activist accounts, including currently absent international figures of concern.

“External studies of fake news and bot targeting of Catalonia have established a significant degree of hostile state activity in stirring the crisis, partly in order to manipulate and provoke crises elsewhere but also to distract security services. This (and previous) research shows clear evidence Scotland was targeted and impacted by this activity.”

Other evidence of bot activity is that the main data showed the term “Russia” is almost equal with “#IndyRef2” across Scottish Twitter, significantly larger than even Catalonia, with nearly 140,000 tweets mentioning the country.

Patrick said: “Mentions of Sputnik, the Russian state broadcaster which operates in Scotland as a local channel, appears more often than the topic SNP Walkout in the sample.”

The third-largest topic discussed on Scottish Twitter is Dissolve The Union. All malign bot accounts found within the research have been targeting the Dissolve The Union topic.

Patrick concluded: “There is clear evidence of external botnets aimed at Scottish Twitter, signalling for independence but messaging against the SNP. These accounts appear dormant at present but were active 2014/2015.”

In general, says Patrick, “Scottish Twitter is positive, with ‘life’ being the most used word in account profiles. The Arts feature heavily, alongside gin.”

Suggesting that the Scottish Government engages with Twitter to make the platform safer for all users, he adds: “Scottish Twitter does have a problem with bots, both malign and benign, and the scale of the problem is quantifiable. This does have some impact on Scottish public discourse and there is influence exerted both on and off social media.

“Scotland is a clear target for hostile state and non-state actors and provides conditions which are ripe for exploitation due to its position as an independent nation operating under devolved power arrangements during a time of crisis from the United Kingdom.

“Subsequently, malign activity will increase over time, rather than remain static or decrease.”