Conservative Twitter is freaking out over a reported bot purge

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Twitter has seemingly suspended thousands of suspected bot accounts, and some conservatives are claiming it’s a deliberate political crackdown, or “Twitter Lockout.” This morning, a number of right-leaning users complained about losing dramatic numbers of followers — including Michael Flynn, Jr., “alt-right” figurehead Richard Spencer, journalist Cassandra Fairbanks, and Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson.

Other people posted (unconfirmed) reports that they had been temporarily locked out of their accounts because of “unusual activity” and “automated behavior,” and were asked to provide a phone number for verification.

Contacted for comment, Twitter told The Verge that “Twitter’s tools are apolitical, and we enforce our rules without political bias. As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviors that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse. We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it. That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone.”

Russia-linked social media manipulation has been under particular scrutiny recently after the FBI indicted 13 alleged members of the Internet Research Agency last week, and bots allegedly promoted discord after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. The Internet Research Agency’s misinformation campaign allegedly targeted all parts of the political spectrum but focused particularly on promoting Donald Trump. So it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if bot accounts tended to follow conservative figures.

Conservatives, however, have long claimed that they’re specifically targeted by Twitter; even FCC chair Ajit Pai has accused the company of political discrimination. So it’s also not surprising to see this characterized as a liberal Silicon Valley plot, although some of the theories get remarkably specific — like white supremacist David Duke complaining that Twitter is specifically preventing him from reaching 50,000 followers. One person started a White House petition demanding that the move be “stopped immediately” by Trump. On the other hand, some people who complained about losing followers say they’ve gotten them back, presumably as real users verified their phone numbers after being flagged.

Twitter has made pro-Trump bot purges before, it’s created controversy by suspending individual conservative accounts for other reasons, and it’s weathered years of conservative political complaints and threats to leave the service. This is just the latest turn in that cycle.

Update 12:40PM ET: Added comment from Twitter.

Comments

Eh, just the fluff du jour. Those who aren’t bots will confirm their accounts, and forget about it again. I have dual Twitter accounts; I’ll see if they hassle me.

Ooh, looks like TV.com just clobbered the RWNJ calling this article "fake news". Pity, I was having fun with that.

These guys are nuts

Makes me sick knowing Facebook and even Barack Obama failed to act on this nonsense for fear of appearing biased against conservatives. Conservatives clearly don’t care about being "fair"

To be fair to Obama, he approached McConnell saying he wanted to make a joint statement about the Russian interference from both parties prior to the election, and McConnell told him if Obama did this, he’d announce that the president was making the announcement as an act of partisan politics.

Should Obama have said fuck it and done it anyway? Yeah. But McConnell and the rest of his party’s leaders (read: leaders, not random Republican civilians) are really to blame.

Anyway, good on Twitter for making people, uh, you know, confirm their identities on their platform. Glad that conservative Twitter is openly complaining about free speech on Twitter yet again and still somehow missing the connection there.

BREAKING NEWS: The Trumpster is badgering Sessions to investigate Obama relative to Russia. It is possible this is just another ploy of the Trumpster’s to get Sessions to resign.

Anyway, good on Twitter for making people, uh, you know, confirm their identities on their platform.

Yeah, it’s kind of like having people show ID to be eligible to vote. It just makes sense.

Not equivalent. Voting is a right. Also, this process is an attempt to solve a problem. There’s no problem in the voting system that would be solved by having to show ID to vote.

I don’t see how they aren’t equivalent in a broad sense. If we want proof that people on a ‘platform’ such as Twitter or the voting system are actually people and eligible to participate in an unrestricted manner on said platform, then there are only a couple of ways to do so I can think of.

Twitter’s makes sense. So does requiring an ID for voting. Just make sure that the validation isn’t a financial burden to anyone and I don’t see a problem with it.

> Yeah, it’s kind of like having people show ID to be eligible to vote.

"Quick! Haul in the WADDABOUTITS!

Which literally nobody disagrees with as long as IDs are given out for free.

But continue with your whataboutisms.

> Which literally nobody disagrees with as long as IDs are given out for free.

Indeed. A robust system of universal ID, working online with dual-factor authentication, working offline with smart cards. This also implies all Americans having a personal data repository. The RWNJs don’t like that idea — too bad, it’s gonna happen sooner or later.

Right Wing something something.. what is that acronym you’re using?

I completely agree that IDs should be given out for free.

I don’t think it’s considered whataboutism when I agree with both stances. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

"Digressing from a digression … "

Ahhh yes, those good old red blooded political conservatives who want the government to step in and dictate what a private company does with its product and services.

I get that it’s funny, but where did they say they wanted the government to step in?

The article.

One person started a White House petition demanding that the move be "stopped immediately" by Trump.

Huh, not sure how I missed that. That is funny.

Why are bots even allowed on Twitter?

Because user numbers are a meaningful statistic to shareholders and they’re terrified of reporting negative growth.

Same reason they’re allowed on Instagram too. Like @gambakufu said, they’re good for stats and numbers.

The real question is: how does twitter know the difference between a bot and someone who likes to copy and paste things. Chain letters are as old as the mail system.

Similar behaviors. Basic profiles with no profile image, minimal (if any) bio, following the same people, up voting the same things, etc

And if a few real alt-reichers get deplatformed in the process? Woops! :^)

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