Nigel Farage dismisses claims of Russian bot influence in General Election as 'cobblers'

Nigel Farage in a BBC studio with a projected image of Russian president Vladimir Putin behind him
-Credit: (Image: PA Media)

Reform UK leader and Clacton constituency candidate Nigel Farage has dismissed allegations that Russian-inspired bots could be influencing the General Election through social media as "cobblers". His comments came in response to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which identified five Facebook pages that allegedly shared pro-Russian narratives and showed support for Reform UK.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden expressed serious concerns about the ABC's findings, labelling them "gravely concerning".

During an appearance on Sky News's Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, Farage was dismissive of the claims regarding automated technology: "Oh, don't talk cobblers."

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He continued with a pointed remark towards the Deputy Prime Minister: "I mean you had this, this, this bland fellow on earlier who apparently is the Deputy Prime Minister, who no-one knows who he is, and there he is saying, 'oh, there are Russian bots involved'."

Farage then questioned the Conservative Party's financial ties to Russia: "Hang on, did you ask him how many millions of pounds his party have taken from Russian sources over the course of the last few years?"

He concluded by dubbing the situation "This is the Russia hoax."

Dowden, who also appeared on the programme, referred to the use of social media as "a classic example from the Russian playbook".

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden speaks to the media as he arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden made his comments in response to an ABC investigation in The Sunday Times (Yui Mok/PA) -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

The Deputy Prime Minister commented: "What I would say is this is relatively typical, low-level stuff, but we stood up the election cell in the Cabinet Office, we did that at the very beginning of the campaign, and it was designed to look into exactly this sort of thing and I think that ... it should just be a salutary reminder for all of us, when you engage on social media, are these people that you think are posting stuff, are they real or are they bots generated by hostile state actors? ".

In response to the ABC investigation featured in The Sunday Times, Mr Dowden expressed: "Malign foreign actors, promoting British political parties, policies and views that fit their agenda is just another example of the challenges in the increasingly volatile cyberspace of the 21st century and is gravely concerning to see during an election campaign."

It was also reported by the newspaper that Richard Holden, the Conservative Party chairman, had penned a letter to Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, and Sir Tim Barrow, the National Security Adviser, requesting an investigation into the claims.

ABC reportedly discovered five pages that seemed unrelated at first glance. However, upon closer examination of the location data attached to the pages' administrators, tracking of paid ads, and analysis of similar or shared content across the pages, which often appeared synchronised, a connection was established.

The broadcaster also revealed that the majority of administrators for each page were based in Nigeria, a significant detail as previous Russian online propaganda networks were discovered to be operating from Africa.

Reform UK Leader Nigel Farage has said previously he admired Russian president Vladimir Putin as a political operator (Peter Byrne/PA)
Reform UK Leader Nigel Farage has said previously he admired Russian president Vladimir Putin as a political operator (Peter Byrne/PA) -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

ABC showcased a fabricated AI-generated image, allegedly posted by one of these accounts, which portrayed at least five fully-loaded dinghies near chalk cliffs on the sea.

Two accounts reportedly labelled Mr Farage as "the people's champion".

Mr Farage, who is currently campaigning in the Clacton constituency in Essex, has previously faced criticism for his remarks about Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In an earlier interview with BBC's Panorama Interviews in June, he stated: "I said I disliked him as a person, but I admired him as a political operator because he's managed to take control of running Russia."

Regarding the conflict in Ukraine, Mr Farage commented: "We provoked this war."

Oliver Dowden Chatham House speech
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden (Yui Mok/PA) -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

"It's, you know, of course it's his fault he's used what we've done as an excuse."

At the time, Home Secretary James Cleverly accused Mr Farage of "echoing Putin's vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine", while shadow defence secretary John Healey claimed the Reform UK leader would "rather lick Vladimir Putin's boots than stand up for the people of Ukraine".

On Sunday, speaking to Sky News, Mr Farage described Putin as a "very, very dangerous" man.