Bill Pugliano / Stringer
- Twitter banned 45 accounts believed to be connected with Russian propaganda on the social network.
- The accounts were reported to Twitter by BuzzFeed, which led an investigation with the University of Sheffield.
- The accounts in evidence predominantly tweeted about Angela Merkel, Donald Trump, and Brexit, but were largely ineffective.
Most of the accounts were in German, with activity largely related to discrediting German chancellor Angela Merkel, while the remaining English-language accounts mostly tweeted (and retweeted) about Donald Trump and Brexit.
Twitter recently provided evidence to the US Congress that showed hundreds of accounts were found in connection with a Russian-sponsored organisation called the Internet Research Agency, but none of the new 45 bots uncovered by BuzzFeed were on the list.
BuzzFeed says that it used relatively simplistic methods to identify suspicious accounts, which centred on analysing which other accounts they interact with.
That they found accounts which Twitter themselves had not raises questions on how robust their own methodology is, and how many more bots could be out there.
"This BuzzFeed investigation clearly calls into question the evidence that Twitter provided to the US Senate judiciary and intelligence committees," Damian Collins, the Conservative chair of the UK parliament's culture, media, and sport committee told BuzzFeed. "[It] demonstrates that whatever process the company undertook to identify Russian-backed fake accounts was simply not rigorous enough."
The accounts were relatively harmless, however, as their combined activity showed that the most successful tweet only got 15 retweets — with most of the interactions happening with tweets bouncing off of each other (bot)'s account. Few followers and retweets reached outside the network.