Twitter cracks down on bot behavior

The social media platform changed its policy following ongoing scrutiny over its role in disinformation campaigns

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published February 22, 2018 6:15PM (EST)

 (Getty/Leon Neal)
(Getty/Leon Neal)

Facing increased scrutiny over its role as a weapon of disinformation, Twitter is taking gradual steps to keep trolls and bots from seizing important conversations on its platform. This time, the tech conglomerate is focusing on minimizing automation and the use of multiple accounts. This change will eventually result in terminating services of those who control multiple accounts that tweet the same content, follow users en masse, and perform simultaneous Retweets or likes to steer public opinion.

Twitter employee Yoel Roth explained in a blog post that “these changes are an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter — including elections in the United States and around the world.”

Indeed they are. The indictment filed last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller shed light into the behavior of the accused Russian trolls who allegedly meddled with the 2016 election. The details of the indictment document released last week showed that the defendants, a Russia-backed group, attempted to interfere with the election through information warfare tactics — going so far as to organize trending hashtags like the #Hillary4Prison, according to the indictment document.

Now, Twitter is asking users to avoid posting simultaneous identical posts or “substantially similar content to multiple accounts.”

“As an alternative to posting identical content, you can Retweet content from one account from the other accounts you wish to share that post from,” Roth explains. “This should only be done from a small number of distinct accounts that you directly control."

Twitter is also advising users to avoid simultaneous actions such as likes, Retweets, or follows from multiple accounts.

“The use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted,” Roth writes.

Developers have until March 23 to make changes to their apps and platforms to keep them from partaking in the aforementioned activity. Changes are also coming to TweetDeck, the social media dashboard owned by Twitter.

“Today, we’re also introducing changes to TweetDeck’s multiple account functionality to reflect this guidance,” Roth explains. “Users of TweetDeck will no longer be able to select multiple accounts through which to perform an action such as Tweeting, Retweeting, liking, or following.”

Mass simultaneous tweeting isn’t always a bad thing, though—especially in times of crisis. For this reason, Twitter is making one exception to its new policy.

“As a sole exception to this rule, applications that broadcast or share weather, emergency, or other public service announcements of broad community interest (for example, earthquake or tsunami alerts) are permitted to post this content across multiple accounts who have authorized an app,” Roth wrote.

Meanwhile, Twitter has quietly taken the initiative to purge bots from its platform, which have visibly impacted some right-wing opinion leaders' follower count. Indeed, many conservative personalities have perceived the follower count fall as part of a grand conspiracy against them.

Twitter has not made an official announcement regarding its purge, but it did release the following statement to Gizmodo:

"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."


By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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Russian Meddling Special Counsel Robert Mueller Twitter Twitter Trolls Twitter Policy Update