It’s the one-year anniversary of the US presidential election, in which social media companies were weaponized by Russian government-linked accounts trying to influence the vote.
One of those social media platforms, Twitter, today seems pretty much like the same ludicrous yet addictive mish-mash of righteous indignation, pithy jokes, culture wars, and breaking news that it was a year ago. In fact, after pledging to authorities and users around the world that they were cleaning up shop, Twitter’s contents on election day 2017 in America may come as a bit of surprise.
Today, local US election races were hot topics among Russian-linked Twitter influence networks in the early afternoon, according to the Alliance to Secure Democracy. Of particular interest was the Virginia gubernatorial election that pits Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie.
Below, Moon here refers to South Korean president Moon Jae-in, and Patel to a British member of parliament:
Some users with well-established accounts were tweeting messages to try to convince Democrats to stay home:
The “MAGA Mike King” account was suspended after the tweet was brought to a Twitter spokeswoman’s attention. Voter suppression is a crime in Virginia, and under federal law. “We would review any requests made by law enforcement through appropriate channels,” the spokeswoman said.
Self-proclaimed “prolife, Conservative, Republicans” who were obvious bots tweeted in favor of “Gellespie” in broken English, amid frantic retweets of pro-Trump memes.
American patriots get out and vote straight Republican ticket today we must control the people’s agenda to #PMT MAGA??????
— concetta (@RETTinol) November 7, 2017
The “concetta” account is also apparently angry that two women had stolen a “poppy tin from a Chelmsford supermarket,” although 99.9% of Americans have no idea what a poppy tin is, and even higher percentage likely don’t care.
While Twitter has established partnerships with US law enforcement to find and report child sexual exploitation and terrorism-related activity, there is still no such collaboration focused on election integrity.
Behind the scenes, though, some things have changed. Twitter told Congress last week (pdf p. 7) that it now blocks and challenges four million “suspicious” users a week, more than double the amount of last year. It has suspended more than 117,000 “malicious applications” since June of 2017.
Twitter has rolled out new guidelines for political advertisers and general users in the past year, and is investing more in machine learning in order to mitigate the effect of fake, coordinated, and automated accounts, attorney Sean Edgett said. Still, he added, when it comes to fighting Russian attempts to disrupt US elections, “we must do better to prevent it.”