There’s plenty of headlines right now trying to understand what to make of the role of Russian bots in the US 2016 election. Twitter even confirmed that the number is far higher than they had previously disclosed:
Twitter has admitted that more than 50,000 Russia-linked accounts used its service to post automated material about the 2016 US election – a far greater number than previously disclosed.
Announcing the discovery in a post to its website late on Friday, the company said the posts had reached at least 677,775 Americans, all of whom would be receiving a warning by email.
Twitter and other “free” social networks derive their value by numbers and concepts like “user engagement” and “interaction”. Even if it’s a bot that’s artificially driving up those numbers, Twitter still benefits. Attention is attention, and feeds the graph to show the shareholders. Twitter is even insulting enough to try to absolve themselves of some responsibility:
Twitter’s open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information. This is important because we cannot distinguish whether every single Tweet from every person is truthful or not. We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth. Journalists, experts and engaged citizens Tweet side-by-side correcting and challenging public discourse in seconds.
Twitter is actually a very effective means to proliferate all types of false information, because it’s effective at simply proliferating information. Reports by users are great, sure, but a bot has limitless energy and doesn’t even have feelings. Plus, how can users take seriously a company who won’t enforce their own rules when a certain individual makes nuclear threats. Then they double down and indicate that world leaders get to play by different rules than the rest of us.
Oh, and those bots they’re insisting they’re working so hard to fight against? Here’s how that’s working out:
The PR war over the US government shutdown has been a tale of rival hashtags. Democrats are desperately branding it the “Trump shutdown,” while Republicans are pushing the phrase “Schumer shutdown,” after Democrat Senate leader Chuck Schumer.
The GOP is getting a boost with that message from a now-familiar ally: Russian bots. In the last 48 hours, Russia-linked Twitter accounts tweeted #schumershutdown more than any other hashtag, according to Hamilton 68, a project run by the German Marshall Fund think tank that tracks tweets “tied to Russia-linked influence networks.”
It’s increasingly clear that a platform that brought many together has now been hijacked and is working overtime to drive us apart. It’s being used as a tool to spread lies, disinformation, and foment distrust all in the name of engagement.
Time to disengage.