Fake news proliferated on social media during the 2016 election season. Now Democratic leadership is on the offensive to fight deceptive posts that could hurt the party in the upcoming elections. News of one of the party’s latest efforts broke on Friday: Twitter deleted more than 10,000 accounts posting messages that were aimed at discouraging midterm voting, according to Reuters.
The accounts were reportedly bots posing as Democrats asking people not to vote. Sources told Reuters that some of their posts argued that liberal men should refrain from casting ballots in order to minimize their own voices and amplify those of women.
“We removed a series of accounts for engaging in attempts to share disinformation in an automated fashion — a violation of our policies,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNN Business. “We stopped this quickly and at its source.”
A group within the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) identified the posts with the help of anti-bot tools like Botometer and Hoaxley with the assistance of companies like RoBhat Labs, according to Reuters. The committee has been employing the tools to take proactive steps against automated and malicious posts in the run-up to the midterms. The DCCC notified Twitter about these particular posts earlier this year. The accounts were removed at the end of September and beginning of October.
“For the election this year we have established open lines of communication and direct, easy escalation paths for state election officials, DHS, and campaign organizations from both major parties,” Twitter told CNN Business.
The platform has become much more aggressive about cracking down on fake accounts since the 2016 election. According to The Washington Post, Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June alone this year. The Independent reported at the time that the suspensions might have affected 6 percent of all Twitter accounts.
While that crackdown was incited in part by fake news coming from Russian bots during the 2016 election, this newer group of malicious accounts seems to have been different. Twitter told CNN Business that the more than 10,000 accounts removed this fall probably operated from within the United States.
“Whether it’s Russia or whether it is a bot network in Michigan, it’s all the same in terms of fighting against it,” David Yanakovich, head of digital operations for Doug Jones’ Senate campaign, told The Washington Post of Democrats’ fight against online misinformation.
RoBhat Labs told Reuters that it’s been informing Democratic leadership about trends it sees in bot activity. “We can’t tell you who’s behind these different operations, Twitter hides that from us, but with the technology you known when and how it’s happening,” co-founder Ash Bhat said.
With so much on the line in Tuesday’s midterms, the DCCC’s effort is undoubtedly important. Reuters reported that there seem to have been fewer automated disinformation tweets in 2018 than in 2016 but that Democrats are staying on the alert. If there’s a sudden surge in the days before the election, they hope that this flagging system will help them respond effectively.
“We applaud Twitter for taking this step to help ensure that voters get correct and timely information about how to make their voices heard on Election Day,” Raffi Krikorian, the Democratic National Committee’s chief technology officer, told CNN Business.