Congress at night

Democrats identify 10,000+ Twitter bots discouraging voting

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According to a Reuters report, Twitter has deleted more than 10,000 bot accounts created to discourage Americans (mostly Democrats) from voting in tomorrow’s midterm elections.

During the midterm elections, citizens will vote on all seats in the House of Representatives and approximately one-third of those in the Senate. The elections will determine whether the Republicans will retain control of both chambers until the next election, scheduled for November 2020.

The elections campaigns have been fought fiercely and with many instances of incivility, including instances of explicit and implicit racism to attack candidates, daily lies told by candidates including many by President Trump himself, and serious allegations of tampering with online voting systems in Georgia. Congressional candidates were being targeted by hackers months before the elections, according to Microsoft.

Now, Reuters reports that Twitter has been taking action against a concerted effort to discourage people – specifically Democrats – from voting.

Twitter has identified and deleted more than 10,000 automated accounts which were being used to post messages discouraging people from voting. The accounts were created to appear to belong to Democrats. Tweets published by the accounts included messages discouraging male Democrat supporters from voting, arguing that doing so would drown out womens’ voices.

Increasing voter turnout is largely in the interests of the Democrats, who are more likely to have support from the disenfranchised voters not engaged with the elections. In order to encourage voting, ride-hailing service Lyft will be offering free and discounted journeys to voting stations on Tuesday 6 November.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) – which supports Democrats running for the House of Representatives – flagged the tweets to Twitter and the offending accounts were removed throughout September and October.

“We took action on relevant accounts and activity on Twitter,” a Twitter spokesperson told Reuters. The DCCC is hoping that flagging up the fake accounts could help Twitter to respond briskly to any further attempts emerging in the final run-up to the election. In order to help with the effort, the Democrats have developed an original system for identifying and reporting misleading Twitter bots, using publicly available tools (‘Hoaxley’ and ‘Botometer’) developed by researchers at the University of Indiana. The system also allows users to analyse how these bots have spread misinformation on certain subjects.

Twitter has previously been forced to delete millions of accounts being used to spread misinformation in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, which was targeted by a Kremlin-backed ‘troll factory’ called the Internet Research Agency.

The Internet Research Agency also used Facebook and Reddit accounts to spread misinformation in an attempt to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Republican candidate Donald Trump. This information is spread both on dedicated ‘alt-right’ spaces (such as the the_donald Subreddit) as well as on public social media platforms.

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