Twitter is one of the most popular social networks, hitting 8 million users in South Africa at the end of 2017. In the past couple of years, governments, political figures, celebrities and brands have all tapped into the power of this social network, by using it as a communication channel. The influence that the micro-blogging service wields cannot be ignored.
Unfortunately, this influence has also attracted some of the more nefarious parts of society, those who want to use it as a platform to spread fake news, bigotry and propaganda. A local example of this misuse is the highly reported propaganda machine, built by the Gupta family regarding white monopoly capital. According to a Sunday Times investigation, the controversial family distributed their messages in many ways including fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook.
Sunday Times reported that between the period of July 2016 and July 2017, the Gupta fake news campaign generated a whopping 220 431 tweets, and authored 4849 tweets, which were retweeted 215 582 times. This campaign made use of accounts that were created manually and used to spread propaganda, while a collective ‘botnet’ – an automated robotic network – was then used to amplify this content through likes and retweets etc.
In the past couple of years, the fake news social media marketplace has grown into a billion-dollar industry globally and the reality is, you and I are unable to easily spot fake accounts. Currently, it is estimated that 15% of Twitter’s 48 million active users are fake.
Fake news has become a legitimate threat to the stability of nations and consequently, it is putting Twitter’s reputation in danger. As a result, the company is doing something about it. In the last couple of weeks, Twitter has introduced new rules, which include the following.
- Users will not be allowed to publish one tweet on multiple accounts. They state that bulk, aggressive, or very high volume automated Retweeting is not permitted under the Automation Rules.
- Simultaneously Liking, Tweeting or Following from multiple accounts is prohibited.
- According to Yoel Roth from Twitter’s API Policy and Product Trust division, keeping Twitter safe and free from spam is a top priority of the social media company. This is in line with their January announcement, that they would be making changes to TweetDeck and the Twitter API, to limit the ability of users to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts.
These are important steps in making it harder for fake news and bot generated propaganda to spread across the microblog. Additional consequences of these moves include the sharp decline in followers for influencers who bought their followers.
In my view, it is really positive to see that unethical practices are being dealt with, and I think these actions by Twitter will go a long way towards rebuilding trust amongst all stakeholders.