Reddit has said that Russia likely posted leaked UK trade documents as part of a vast covert influence campaign

tporter@businessinsider.com (Tom Porter)
Reddit
  • Reddit has said that leaked documents on US-UK trade deal discussions were likely posted on the site as part of a Russian influence campaign. 
  • The documents were cited by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK's opposition Labour party, as evidence that his opponent in the UK general election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was poised to sell out the NHS in trade negotiations with the US. 
  • Researchers earlier in the week said that the accounts that posted the documents on Reddit indicated links to a vast Russian influence campaign uncovered on Facebook dubbed Secondary Infektion. 
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Reddit has said that documents containing confidential details of discussions between the US and UK about a post-Brexit trade deal were likely leaked onto the platform by Russia. 

The platform said it was banning one subreddit and 61 accounts after it uncovered a pattern of activity indicating links to Secondary Infektion, a vast Russian disinformation and influence campaign recently uncovered on Facebook. 

According to a statement by the company, two of the accounts posted the documents, and others manipulated the platform's voting system to boost their visibility. 

Reddit said the cluster of accounts "provides us with important attribution for the recent posting of the leaked UK documents, as well as insights into how adversaries are adapting their tactics".

The documents were brandished by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK's opposition Labour Party, at a press conference in November as evidence that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was considering allowing US drugs companies access to Britain's National Health Service as part of a trade deal following Britain's exit from the European Union. 

He said that the move would pave the way for higher drugs prices and the eventual privatization of the NHS — a claim Johnson rejected. 

The status of the NHS is one of the hot button topics in the UK general election, which will be held on December 12. 

Labour has declined to reveal how it obtained the documents, which the government has confirmed are likely genuine. 

Johnson has been criticised for refuysing to release a report detailing Russian attempts to interfere in British politics, that reportedly shows links between conservative donors and Russian security services. 

According to Reddit, the documents were originally posted by an account called u/gregoriator in October, initially attracting little attention. 

Researchers at think tank The Atlantic Council, social media analytics firm Graphika and the universities of Oxford and Cardiff had earlier in the week drawn attention to links between the trade documents and the disinformation campaign they dubbed Secondary Infektion after a notorious Soviet-era disinformation campaign. 

The experts said those posting the documents on Reddit made mistakes indicating they were not native English speakers.

They then distributed the documents on Twitter, a US conspiracy theory website, and blogging sites. 

The language errors and distribution network employed to spread the trade documents mirrored elements of Secondary Infektion, according to the researchers. 

Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher at Oxford University's Project on Computational Propaganda, told Reutersthat if Russia was behind the leak, its aim may not be to boost the election prospects of a particular party, but to sew confusion. 

"We know from the Russian playbook that often it is not for or against anything," she said. "It's about sowing confusion, and destroying the field of political trust."

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