Gaming the system

04 02 18
Game recognize Game

Last week the New York Times ran a lengthy exposé on the booming business of buying followers online. They named names of prominent people in several fields who had purchased followers or engagements to create the illusion of outsized influence. Many of those named already had a large platform, so it was interesting to learn that at some point in their careers media figures, athletes, reality TV stars, and politicians felt the need to put some money into faking a larger social media following. The repercussions have already begun. New York’s Attorney General announced his office has opened an investigation into the Devumi, the bot broker highlighted in the article. The Chicago Sun-Times has suspended film critic Richard Roeper’s columns while it investigates his alleged purchasing of followers through Devumi.

This week Twitter and Facebook began notifying users that they were exposed to Russian propaganda. The rollout hasn’t gone especially well. People are either mad because this has taken so long or mad because they think Facebook is lying to themand censoring content they like in the process. (Not that folks on the right have much to worry about as an Alex Jones segment on the #TheStorm conspiracy theory was a Facebook trending topic in the U.S. this week and on Friday false flag Amtrak conspiracy theories were a Facebook trending topic as well). Pretty much everyone is angry at tech companies right now, which might explain why Facebook’s daily average users in North America dropped for the first time in the company’s history.

Social media is being manipulated. Continually. A recent HOPE not hate report, Bots, Fake News and the Anti-Muslim Message on Social Media, provides concrete evidence that so-called ‘bot armies’ are being used to amplify anti-Muslim messages on Twitter, for example.

It’s a societal issue much larger than our current political climate. But the political coverage of how social media manipulation influences American politics is still severely lacking. #ReleasetheMemo has gone from far right conspiracy to mainstream political freakout. But the hashtag’s origin and amplification online are rarely mentioned in articles covering it. Same goes for coverage of the online reaction to President Trump’s State of the Union address this week. Articles covering what people on social media thought of the speech made no mention of potential bot or troll manipulation.

We all know social media is easily gamed but still can’t bring ourselves to acknowledge that we’re being played. When I read the news about the Chicago Sun-Times suspending Roeper over fake followers I couldn’t help but wonder how often their own coverage of political and cultural events was influenced by social media manipulation. Or if they’d even be able to acknowledge if it was. That’s not a knock on the Sun-Times but an acknowledgment that all the knowledge in the world about social media manipulation won’t be of any use until we accept that we’re still vulnerable.

Bots, Fake News and Russian Influence on the Brexit Referendum: A Look at the Evidence

As evidence for Russian interference into the 2016 US Presidential election mounts, it is no surprise that many have begun to ask legitimate questions about whether similar Russian-directed subversion affected the 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK. People want to know whether this seismic political shift was somehow the result of manipulation or outside meddling.

That people are attempting to manipulate social media to advance their own political agendas is unquestionable, as a recent HOPE not hate report showed.

A 2017 report published by Marco Bastos and Dan Mercea of City University, titled The Brexit Botnet and User-Generated Hyperpartisan News, analyzed 10m tweets between 10 June and 10 July 2016 that referenced the referendum using relevant hashtags.

They found that an army of 13,493 fake Twitter accounts posted almost 65,000 times about the referendum, only to vanish soon after the vote, while an additional 26,538 suddenly changed their name. Bastos said that they “believe these accounts formed a network of zombie agents”.

Interestingly, these bots were eight times more likely to tweet Leave slogans than other Twitter users and out of 794,949 users, only 37% (30,122) were located in the UK, raising the question of possible foreign involvement in manipulation.

So, did Russian interference influence the Brexit referendum?


 White Supremacist Propaganda Surges on US Campuses

New research produced by the Anti-Defamation League found that white supremacists, particularly alt-right groups, have been targeting US college campuses since January 2016. In 2017 incidents more than tripled with 346 incidents, on 216 college campuses, in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The report names Identity Evropa, Atomwaffen Division, Patriot Front, and Vanguard America among the perpetrators.


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That’s a wrap for this week! Talk to you next Sunday!


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