Twitter contends with the influence of Russian bots and fake followers

Russian twitter bots shared Donald Trump’s tweets around 470,000 times in the final months of the 2016 election, with Hillary Clinton’s account receiving less than 50,000 retweets from similar sources.

Twitter contends with the influence of Russian bots and fake followers

The figures emerged at the tail end of last week from Twitter in a submission to the US Senate Judiciary Committee. The automated, Russian-linked shares accounted for more than 4% of the retweets @realDonaldTrump received over the period between 1 September and 15 November 2016.

Twitter describes the figure as “relatively small”, but the research nevertheless shows how the social network’s systems were manipulated during the US election. Twitter identified a total of around 2.12 million automated, election-related tweets from Russian-linked accounts, which led to 455 million impressions over the first seven days of posting.

The site also found evidence of non-automated patterns by the Russian-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA), with some accounts representing themselves as news outlets or politically engaged Americans, and reaching out to journalists and prominent individuals through mentions. “Some of the accounts appear to have attempted to organize rallies and demonstrations, and several engaged in abusive behavior and harassment,” Twitter adds.

It has not been a great week for Twitter. New York’s chief prosecutor said over the weekend that the state would be opening an investigation into a firm that allegedly sold millions of fake followers to Twitter users. A number of celebrities have been linked to the purportedly illegal service, offered by the company Devumi, including actors, political commentators and TV personalities such The Great British Bake Off’s Paul Hollywood and Olympic gold medalist James Cracknell.  

“The growing prevalence of bots means that real voices are too often drowned out in our public conversation,” said New York chief prosecutor, Eric Schneiderman, in a tweet. “Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence.”

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