President Donald Trump's most faithful followers are often found on Twitter sharing racist memes and promoting the hashtag #MAGA. Many of these Twitter users, however, are not registered voters or even human. They are Twitter bots controlled by nebulous groups looking to defend the president from criticism.
Trump interacted with one of these apparent bots on Saturday when he retweeted a message from user @Protrump45, who wrote, "Trump working hard for the American people.....thanks"
The retweet looks innocent enough, as the president often shares flattering messages with his 35 million followers. But some Twitter users quickly deduced that @Protrump45, who goes by the name Nicole Mincey according to heavy.com, is merely part of an advertising campaign that is selling pro-Trump merchandise at the website Protrump45.com.
Elliot Higgins, a senior fellow at Atlantic's Digital Forensic Research Lab, concluded as much thanks to in part the detective work of Bob Schooley, a screenwriter and TV producer.
Schooley was the first to note that the avatar used on @Protrump45's account was a generic stock photo.
Schooly would later learn that many pro-Trump Twitter users that were connected to the @ProTrump45 campaign also were fake.
Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told NPR in an interview in April that misinformation campaigns didn't stop with Trump's election win.
"If you went online today, you could see these accounts — either bots or actual personas somewhere — that are trying to connect with the administration. They might broadcast stories and then follow up with another tweet that tries to gain the president's attention, or they'll try and answer the tweets that the president puts out," Watts said.