Twitter on Wednesday suspended 45 accounts suspected of spreading propaganda after they were flagged by BuzzFeed News.
The bots reportedly have “close connections” to the hundreds of Russia-linked accounts Twitter presented to Congress in late September. None of the 45 accounts identified by BuzzFeed were on that list.
Most of the accounts posted messages written in German encouraging people to vote against German Chancellor Andrea Merkel. Around 20 others reportedly tweeted in English about Donald Trump, and another 21 posted about Brexit, with the height of activity falling on the day of the referendum.
Tweets mentioning Trump appeared a total of 198 times in the summer of 2016, with strange memes and hashtags like #WirLiebenTrump (#WeloveTrump). It appears the accounts were largely ineffective, with the most successful tweet receiving just 15 retweets. Most of the interactions occurred within the network of bot accounts, rarely reaching actual human users.
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BuzzFeed says it found the trolls by simply looking at accounts that were interacting with known bots. It says the “relative ease” in which they were found suggests there could be many more accounts the social media platform is overlooking.
“This BuzzFeed investigation clearly calls into question the evidence that Twitter provided to the US Senate judiciary and intelligence committees,” Damian Collins, Conservative chair of the UK parliament’s culture, media, and sport committee, told BuzzFeed. “[It] demonstrates that whatever process the company undertook to identify Russian-backed fake accounts was simply not rigorous enough.”