October 30, 2020

Twitter suspended fake accounts claiming to be Black Trump supporters — but only after they reportedly racked up 265,000 retweets

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  • Twitter has suspended fake accounts that claimed to be Black Trump supporters for violating its policies against platform manipulation and spam, The Washington Post reported Tuesday and the company confirmed to Business Insider.
  • But researchers told The Washington Post that the accounts generated more than 265,000 retweets and mentions before Twitter could take action, and that “the damage is done.”
  • Twitter refused to comment on how many accounts it had suspended, their origins, or reach.
  • Black voters have been targeted by pro-Trump disinformation campaigns on multiple occasions in both the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Twitter has suspended multiple fake accounts that claimed to be Black supporters of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party for violating its policies against platform manipulation and spam, The Washington Post reported Tuesday and Business Insider confirmed.

“Our teams are working diligently to investigate this activity and will take action in line with the Twitter Rules if Tweets are found to be in violation. Presently, we’ve taken action on some of the Tweets and accounts you referenced for violations of our policies on platform manipulation and spam,” Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy told Business Insider.

Darren Linvill, a social media researcher at Clemson University, told The Washington Post that he had identified a network of more than two dozen accounts that posed as Black voters, tweeting nearly identical language in many cases and using images of real Black people from media reports and other sources as profile pictures.

But before Twitter could intervene, the accounts had accumulated more than 265,000 retweets and mentions and tens of thousands of followers, Linvill told The Washington Post.

“The damage is done,” Indiana University at Bloomington computer science professor Filippo Menczer told The Washington Post, adding: “There is payoff just in getting the volume out there, and the fact that the original post is gone doesn’t really matter.”

Linvill told The Washington Post that there were some traces of foreign origins in the accounts, including possible connections to Russia, but that he couldn’t confirm those origins.

Twitter refused to comment on how many accounts it had taken action against, their origins, how many people they had reached, or why the company’s automated systems failed to detect it, but told Business Insider that it discloses evidence of coordinated misinformation operations by state-backed actors in its public archive.

NBC News reported on a similar spam network in August, UK-based TV station Channel 4 News reported last month that the Trump campaign itself attempted to suppress Black voter turnout in 2016, and a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election concluded that Black voters were the country’s primary target.

Social media platforms have gradually become more aggressive in cracking down on election-related misinformation, but the speed at which disinformation spreads has posed significant hurdles. A 2018 study from MIT found that fake news stories spread six times faster and are retweeted 70% more often than real news stories on Twitter specifically.