Researchers have uncovered a massive bot farm on Twitter dedicated to boosting former President Donald Trump as he gears up for the 2024 campaign. The network of bots has spent the better part of a year praising Trump and denigrating his political rivals.
Israeli technology firm Cyabra uncovered the network, first reported by the Associated Press (AP). According to its report, the bots mock Trump’s critics on both sides of the aisle and take aim at his political rivals Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). The automated accounts are reportedly particularly aggressive in their suggestion that DeSantis can’t beat Trump but would be a good running mate.
The identity of whoever created the bots is not yet known, but Cyabra told the AP that its analysts determined that they originated in the United States. According to the researchers, the network involved thousands of accounts, and potentially many more.
To identify the fake accounts, Cyabra researchers analyzed their profiles, follower lists, and posts. Bots tend to write repetitively about one or a handful of subjects, which helps identify them.
“One account will say, ‘Biden is trying to take our guns; Trump was the best,’ and another will say, ‘Jan. 6 was a lie and Trump was innocent,’” Jules Gross, the Cyabra engineer who first discovered the network, told the AP. “Those voices are not people. For the sake of democracy I want people to know this is happening.”
The bot armies were created in April, October, and November 2022. Many of the accounts were created on the same day.
According to Cyabra’s findings, these accounts are responsible for a disproportionate amount of negative tweets about Trump’s rivals. For example, it traced nearly three-fourths of negative posts about Haley back to fake accounts. The same network posted overwhelmingly positive content about Trump in what they believe is an attempt to alter public perception of how much support he has.
Cyabra contends that the “three massive armies of bots” are utilizing the same tactics the Kremlin employed to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Advances in both technology and tactics mean that fake accounts are growing increasingly harder to identify. Cyborg accounts, where a human periodically takes control of a bot to make its activity appear more authentic, are an example of a tactic that makes it harder to differentiate between a fake and an authentic account. Improvements in artificial intelligence also mean that bots are only going to become more sophisticated as time goes by.
Some may have hoped that the era of bot networks influencing elections ended after the 2016 election. Cyabra’s report indicates that bots are back in a big way—if they ever left.
On Monday, Cyabra tweeted that it “is already seeing signs that the coming US election season will have the highest levels of misinformation and influence operations in history.”
“Our understanding of what is mainstream Republican sentiment for 2024 is being manipulated by the prevalence of bots online,” the Cyabra researchers wrote.
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*First Published: Mar 6, 2023, 4:54 pm CST
Claire Goforth is a staff writer at the Daily Dot covering all things politics and technology with a focus on the far right and conspiracy theories.