Russian trolls posted 1,400 tweets about MH17: report

Twitter accounts run by Russian trolls from St. Petersburg tweeted about the MH17 disaster 1,400 times, according to an analysis by NOS of a database of tweets released by Twitter on Wednesday. The database consists of 9 million tweets from Russian trolls and another 1 million tweets by Iranian trolls, including retweets. The tweets were posted by 3,814 accounts that Twitter linked to the Internet Research Agency based in St. Petersburg. Another 770 accounts are based in Iran. 

In total NOS found 2,693 tweets which included the word 'MH17', including retweets. The first tweet was posted on July 17th, 2014 - the day that MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine - the last on May 28th of this year. The Iranian trolls mention MH17 in 157 tweets. 

The most shared tweet, 283 retweets, was written in Russian on the day that the Joint Investigation Team announced that the BUK missile that shot down MH17 came from Russia and was fired in a Ukrainian field under the control of pro-Russian separatists at the time. "Main conclusion of the MH17 report: we point to Russia as the guilty side, but as long as we do not have all the details, wait until 2018", the tweet read, according to the broadcaster. 

This tweet was posted by an account with the username "DonetskNovosti". The account has over 45,000 followers. This account also posted the second most shared tweet, 202 retweets. It read: "MH17 was shot down above the village of Brabovo. Those who have brains in their head and not sawdust understands that Ukraine shot it down."

Apart from MH17, the Netherlands does not seem to be of much interest to the Russian trolls, according to NOS. PVV leader Geert Wilders was mentioned 245 times. The tweets about the Netherlands are only a fraction of the total 10 million tweets in the database Twitter released.

De Groene Amsterdammer previously also reported that Russia's main interest in the Netherlands is MH17 and Wilders. 

Think tank Atlantic Council's digital forensic lab was previously given access to all these tweets. According to the think tank, the vast majority of the tweets were written in Russian. The Russians had "multiple goals", including influencing the U.S. presidential election to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning and polarizing online communities in America. The Iranian trolls mainly propagated messages from the regime abroad. The trolls focused on everyone, irregardless of race, gender, political views or sexual preference. And, the think tank concluded that the trolls had little impact outside the U.S.

Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, 2014. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch, were killed. Investigation by the Dutch Safety Board and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) so far revealed that the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by a BUK missile system from the 53rd Anti-aircraft Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, fired from a field in Ukraine that was under the control of pro-Russian separatists at the time.

The JIT tracked a convoy of nearly 50 military vehicles, including the BUK that shot down MH17, from a 53rd Brigade parking area in Kursk to the border of Ukraine between June 23rd and 25th, 2014 - a few weeks before MH17 was shot down. Australia and the Netherlands officially held Russia accountable for its role in the MH17 disaster - providing the missile that shot down the plane - in May of this year. 

In September Russia held a press conference in which the country said that the BUK missile was indeed made in Russia, but was in Ukrainian hands at the time of the disaster. Russia has been pointing the finger to Ukraine since the disaster happened. Earlier this month the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it is willing to discuss MH17 liability with the Netherlands, "partly with the goal of looking professionally at the responsibility of Ukraine".

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