According to BuzzFeed News, Twitter suspended several accounts that tweeted the pro-Trump message “I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Yovanovitch.” “Yovanovitch” refers to former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified at the House impeachment hearings yesterday. Her testimony is considered by some to be damaging to the president.
The phrase began trending on the platform and Twitter immediately suspected a fake influence campaign aided by bots.
BuzzFeed News reports that “The way the phrase has spread does not appear to be completely authentic. At least 7,320 tweets (including retweets) were posted that included the words posted in the first 45 minutes, according to an analysis conducted by BuzzFeed News. Within that time period, 83 accounts tweeted or retweeted the phrase over 10 times each.”
In fact, some of those accounts were definitely suspicious:
Of the biggest amplifiers, the five most prolific accounts tweeted the phrase every 4 to 33 seconds. The Twitter account @CAEdge was the most frequent amplifier, retweeting posts that included the phrase 136 times in 11 minutes, averaging a post every five seconds. The next biggest account was @OneCarnivorous, which only has 32 followers and retweeted posts containing the phrase 122 times in 28 minutes, or once every 14 seconds. The account @HamilonNC — which has 291 followers — retweeted the phrase 50 times in 26 minutes, averaging once every 31 seconds.
Despite some obvious manipulation, most of the accounts that tweeted the phrase appear to be geniune.
A representative for Twitter said the company was looking into whether the activity was coordinated. Later in the day, several accounts in BuzzFeed News’ data set were suspended. Twitter subsequently told BuzzFeed News that its initial investigations had not found evidence of bot activity amplifying the phrase.
Indeed, both Twitter and BuzzFeed News appear to have jumped to conclusions:
Although the tweet may have been amplified by automated activity, it does not appear to have originated in an inauthentic way. The first account to post “I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Yovanovitch” was a real person — Cari Kelemen, a pro-Trump influencer — whose tweet was retweeted by Jack Posobiec, a far-right activist and host on One America News Network.
Posobiec, in a tweet, denied there was anything inauthentic about the tweets spreading the phrase. “Buzzfeed blogger @broderick is now spreading a kook conspiracy theory that the phrase ‘I hired Donald Trump to fire people like Yovanovitch.’ is being tweeted by bots without evidence,” he said. Posobiec also renamed his account “Botnet Warlord Poso” on Twitter.
BuzzFeed News defends itself by claiming, “Separating bot activity from genuine virality — particularly among pro-Trump social media users, who often operate in ways that look like bots — is difficult.” I would imagine that any viral campaign looks similar, with many users spontaneously joining a trending subject. Twitter’s job is to separate non-human intervention from genuine users.
They’re not doing a very good job of it.
Was the only reason the phrase was targeted for enforcement was that some tweeters of it appeared to be inauthentic? Or was political bias involved in Twitter’s decision? I sympathize with Twitter’s dilemma in this instance, but we’re talking about political speech on a very political issue. Don’t you think they could have been more careful before suspending some accounts?