A research group has uncovered networks of Twitter bots designed to praise former President Donald Trump, attack his critics, and convince people that Governor Ron DeSantis — Trump’s biggest potential rival for the Republican nomination — would be better off as his running mate.
“Our understanding of what is mainstream Republican sentiment for 2024 is being manipulated by the prevalence of bots online,” researchers at the Israeli tech firm Cyabra told The Associated Press. The tactic is reminiscent of the Kremlin’s effort to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential Election.
The firm found that three networks of fake, automated Twitter accounts were created in batches in April, October, and November 2022. While their creator or creators is unknown, the bots have been in operation for the past 11 months, and analysts say that they were likely to have been created within the US. They estimate that there could be hundreds of thousands of these accounts.
The networks were first discovered by Cyabra engineer Jules Gross who was analyzing tweets about a few national political figures and noticed that “many of the accounts posting the content were created on the same day.”
Cyabra researchers shared that while real Twitter accounts run by actual people would typically post about a variety of topics using original and reposted content, bots would often post repetitive content and only about the same topic. They found that this was the case for the networks of Trump-loving fake accounts.
Samuel Woolley, a professor and misinformation researcher at the University of Texas who wrote a book on automated propaganda, shared that most bots are created to amplify content. The more fake accounts share it, the more real people see it and pick it up, telling Twitter’s algorithms to keep showing the content to more people.
“Bots absolutely do impact the flow of information,” he said. “They’re built to manufacture the illusion of popularity. Repetition is the core weapon of propaganda and bots are really good at repetition. They’re really good at getting information in front of people’s eyeballs.”
Failed War on Bots
Back when pre-Elon Musk Twitter claimed that bots made up less than 5% of its active daily user base, Musk commissioned Cyabra to analyze the platform and they found, at the time, that the number of fake accounts was actually closer to 11% of the platform’s total user base.
Today’s numbers are unclear with all the changes in the platform and the company’s moderation structure. Prior to his Twitter takeover, Musk said that one of his top priorities was to squash the bots. Almost five months into his acquisition, he has mostly only managed to ‘kill’ the ‘good bots’ by adding a pay gate to the basic API.
Trump’s campaign has yet to comment on the existence of the pro-Trump bot networks.
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