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Twitter Says That it Removed 32,242 Accounts Linked to State-Backed Manipulation Campaigns

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With the 2020 US Election coming up, and candidates in disagreement over how social platforms should handle political speech, this new disclosure from Twitter comes at an interesting time.

Today, Twitter has outlined its latest account removals – amounting to more than 32,000 accounts – which had been found to be participating in various coordinated manipulation campaigns. 

As explained by Twitter:

“Today we are disclosing 32,242 accounts, including three distinct operations that we have attributed to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, and Turkey respectively. Every account and piece of content associated with these operations has been permanently removed from the service. In addition, we have shared relevant data from this disclosure with two leading research partners: Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO).”

The networks each had their own purpose in amplifying different content.

  • The Chinese network of 23,750 accounts were “Tweeting predominantly in Chinese languages and spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China (CCP), while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong”. Twitter says that it additionally identified a network of more than 150,000 “amplifier accounts” which were designed to boost the content from this core network. 
  • The Russian network of 1,152 accounts was linked to state-backed media website ‘Current Policy’, and was found to be cross-posting and amplifying content “in an inauthentic, coordinated manner for political ends”. The main aim of this cluster was to promote the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, and to attack political dissidents.
  • The Turkish group of 7,340 accounts was found to be amplifying support for the AK Parti and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Technical signals point to the network being associated with the youth wing of the party and a centralized network that maintained a significant number of compromised accounts.”
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Of the three, the Chinese network seems the most concerning – and in particular, the expanded network of “amplifier accounts” which were designed to engage with tweets from the main network in order to increase their reach and ranking in feeds. Why Twitter has seemingly not provided full disclosure on this expanded network is unclear, but the fact that massive clusters of 170k accounts are being formulated for such purpose – even if, in this case, Twitter says they did not end up gaining significant traction – is a major concern. 

Earlier in the year, researchers from Queensland University of Technology in Australia identified what they believed to be a huge cluster of bot accounts which were amplifying disinformation about the cause of the bushfires that hit the east coast of the nation. In that instance, the bot accounts were apparently seeking to boost discussion of the fires being started by arsonists, in order to drown out the debate around climate change that was gaining traction at the time.

It’s not clear who was behind that campaign, or if indeed it was a coordinated bot effort, but the finding aligns with other discoveries in the past, where huge armies of bot accounts have been used to clog the network with a specific political leaning. 

For its part, Twitter said in March that the identification of bot accounts by third parties is largely flawed, and mostly incorrect, so reports like these can’t necessarily be trusted. Twitter has also said that the amount of fake accounts on its platform is less than 5% – though it theoretically wouldn’t count bot accounts as fake, because some bot accounts are helpful and shouldn’t be seen as fake, as such.

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But this latest disclosure suggests that bot swarms like this are indeed possible, and are being used for political manipulation. 

With the Chinese network in particular, Twitter says “they were largely caught early and failed to achieve considerable traction on the service”. So while the network was large, Twitter’s systems picked it up quickly, which highlights the benefits of its evolving approach. Which is good, but it does bring into question whether other networks like this, that have been identified in the past, are also still active, and causing an impact. 

Bot networks were particularly present, based on reports, during the 2016 US Presidential Election. In one example, researchers uncovered “huge, inter-connected Twitter bot networks” seeking to influence political discussion, with the largest incorporating some 500,000 accounts. Last year, Wired reported that bot profiles were still dominating political news streams, with bot profiles contributing up to 60% of tweet activity around some events.

On one hand, today’s disclosure gives me more faith that Twitter’s getting better at detecting such activity, yet on the other, the size of the Chinese amplifier network in particular lends more weight to past, similar claims, which Twitter has at least partially denied.

And while people will point to the fact that Twitter has fewer users than other networks, limiting any related impact either way, the fact of the matter is that Twitter is a critically influential network. You might not even use Twitter yourself, but the news that you see will often come from tweets, with highly engaged influencers, in various forms, locked into the real-time tweet stream, from which they formulate and share opinions across to other platforms. 

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The fact that state-backed groups are focused on influencing the Twitter conversation should be indicative enough – they don’t undertake these activities because Twitter isn’t valuable in this respect. 

If you want to influence opinion, Twitter is now where many start. Which is why it’s increasingly important that Twitter seeks to improve its detection and removal processes wherever it can. 

Socialmediatoday.com

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Twitter Expands its Test of User-Reported Misinformation, Expanding Platform Insight

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Twitter Looks to Extend its Keyword Blocking and Mute Options to More Elements


After seeing success with its initial test of a new, manual reporting option, enabling users to flag tweets that contain potentially misleading claims, Twitter is now expanding the test to more regions, with users in Brazil, Spain, and the Philippines now set to get access.

Launched in August last year, Twitter’s latest effort to combat misinformation focuses on audience trends and perception of such as a means to determine common issues with the platform, and what people feel compelled to report, pointing to things that they don’t want to see.

The process adds an additional ‘It’s misleading’ option to your tweet reporting tools, providing another means to flag concerning claims.

Which is obviously not a foolproof way to detect and remove misleading content – but as noted, the idea is not so much focused on direct enforcement, as such, but more on broader trends based on how many people report certain tweets, and what people report.

As Twitter explained as part of the initial launch:

“Although we may not take action on this report or respond to you directly, we will use this report to develop new ways to reduce misleading info. This could include limiting its visibility, providing additional context, and creating new policies.”

So essentially, the concept is that if, say, 100, or 1,000 people report the same tweet for ‘political misinformation’, that’ll likely get Twitter’s attention, which may help Twitter identify what users don’t want to see, and want the platform to take action against, even if it’s not actually in violation of the current rules.

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So it’s more of a research tool than an enforcement option – which is a better approach, because enabling users to dictate removals by mass-reporting in this way could definitely lead to misuse.

That, in some ways, has borne true in its initial testing – as explained by Head of Site Integrity Yoel Roth:

On average, only about 10% of misinfo reports were actionable -compared to 20-30% for other policy areas. A key driver of this was “off-topic” reports that don’t contain misinfo at all.

In other words, a lot of the tweets reported through this manual option were not an actual concern, which highlight the challenges in using user reports as an enforcement measure.

But Roth notes that the data they have gathered has been valuable either way:

We’re already seeing clear benefits from reporting for the second use case (aggregate analysis) – especially when it comes to non-text-based misinfo, such as media and URLs linking to off-platform misinformation.

So it may not be a great avenue for direct action on each reported tweet, but as a research tool, the initiative has helped Twitter determine more areas of focus, which contributes to its broader effort to eliminate misinformation within the tweet eco-system.

A big element of this is bots, with various research reports indicating that Twitter bots are key amplifiers of misinformation and politically biased information.

In early 2020, at the height of the Australian bushfire crisis, researchers from Queensland University detected a massive network of Twitter bots that had been spreading misinformation about the Australian bushfire crisis and amplifying anti-climate change conspiracy theories in opposition to established facts. Other examinations have found that bot profiles, at times, contribute up to 60% of tweet activity around some trending events.

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Twitter is constantly working to better identify bot networks and eliminate any influence they may have, but this expanded reporting process may help to identify additional bot trends, as well as providing insight into the actual reach of bot pushes via expanded user reporting.

There are various ways in which such insight could be of value, even if it doesn’t result in direct action against offending tweets, as such. And it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter’s expansion of the program improves the initiative, and how it also pairs with its ongoing ‘Birdwatch’ reporting program to detect platform misuse.

Essentially, this program won’t drive a sudden influx of direct removals, eliminating offending tweets based on the variable sensibilities of each user. But it will help to identify key content trends and user concerns, which will contribute to Twitter’s broader effort to better detect these movements, and reduce their influence.





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Twitter’s Latest Promotional Campaign Focuses on Celebrities Who’ve Manifested Success Via Tweet

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Twitter's Latest Promotional Campaign Focuses on Celebrities Who've Manifested Success Via Tweet


Twitter has launched a new advertising campaign which is focused on ‘manifesting’ via tweet, highlighting how a range of successful athletes and entertainers made initial commitments to their success via Twitter long before their public achievements.

Through a new set of billboard ads across the US, Twitter will showcase 12 celebrities that ‘tweeted their dreams into existence’.

As explained by Twitter:

To honor these athletes and other celebrities for Tweeting their dreams into existence, Twitter turned their famous Tweets into 39+ billboards! Located across 8 cities (NYC, LA, SF, Chicago, Toronto, Houston, Tampa, Talladega), most of the billboards can be found in the hometowns or teams’ locations of the stars who manifested their dreams, such as Bubba Wallace in Talladega and Diamond DeShields in Chicago.”

Twitter Manifest campaign

Beyond the platform promotion alone, the billboards actually align with usage trends at this time of year, as people work to stick with their New Year’s resolutions, and adopt new habits that will improve their lives. Seeing big-name stars that have been able to achieve their own dreams, which they’ve publicly communicated via tweet, could be another avenue to holding firm on such commitments, while Twitter also notes that tweets about manifestation are at an all-time high, seeing 100% year-over-year growth.

Maybe that’s the key. By sharing your ambitions and goals publicly, maybe that additional accountability will better ensure that you stick to your commitments – or maybe it’s all just mental, and by adding that extra public push to yourself, you’ll feel more compelled to keep going, because it’s there for all to see.

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In addition to the promotional value of the campaign, Twitter’s also donating nearly $1 million to charities as selected by each of the featured celebrities.

“Some of the charities include Boys and Girls Club, Destination Crenshaw, The 3-D Foundation, and UNICEF Canada.”

It’s an interesting push, which again comes at the right time of year. Getting into a new routine is tough, as is changing careers, publishing your first artwork, speaking in public, etc. Maybe, by seeing how these stars began as regular people, tweeting their dreams like you or I, that could act as a good motivator that you too can achieve what you set out to do, and that by posting such publicly, you’re making a commitment, not to the random public, but to yourself, that you will do it this year.

Sure, 2022 hasn’t exactly got off to a great start, with a COVID resurgence threatening to derail things once again. But maybe, this extra push could be the thing that keeps you focused, like these celebrities, even amid external distractions.  





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Snapchat Adds New Limits on Adults Seeking to Connect with Minors in the App

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Snapchat Adds New Limits on Adults Seeking to Connect with Minors in the App


After Instagram added similar measures last year, Snapchat is now implementing new restrictions to limit adults from sending messages to users under the age of 18 in the app.

As reported by Axios, Snapchat is changing its “Quick Add” friend suggestion process so that it’s not possible for people to add users aged under 18 “unless there are a certain number of friends in common between the two users”. That won’t stop such connection completely, but it does add another barrier in the process, which could reduce harm.

The move is a logical and welcome step, which will help improve the security of youngsters in the app, but the impacts of such could be far more significant on Snap, which is predominantly used by younger people.

Indeed, Snapchat reported last year that around 20% of its total user base was aged under 18, with the majority of its audience being in the 13-24 year-old age bracket. That means that interaction between these age groups is likely a significant element of the Snap experience, and restricting such could have big impacts on overall usage, even if it does offer greater protection for minors.

Which is why this is a particularly significant commitment from Snap – though it is worth noting that Snapchat won’t necessarily stop older users from connecting with younger ones in the app, it just won’t make it as easy through initial recommendations, via the Quick Add feature.

So it’s not a huge change, as such. But again, given the interplay between these age groups in the app, it is a marker of Snap’s commitment to protection, and to finding new ways to ensure that youngsters are not exposed to potential harm within the app.

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Snapchat has faced several issues on this front, with the ephemeral focus of the app providing fertile ground for predators, as it automatically erases any evidence trail in the app. With that in mind, Snap does have a way to go in providing more protection, but it is good to see the company looking at ways to limit such interactions, and combat potentially harmful misuse.



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