Most serious midterm misinformation campaigns last year were homegrown, Twitter reveals

Thousands of tweets were pulled

Most serious midterm misinformation campaigns last year were homegrown, Twitter reveals
Twitter said it found "much less platform" form foreign accounts during the 2018 midterms. (Source: Pexels)

(Gray News) – Twitter revealed on Thursday that the most serious misinformation campaigns directed at the 2018 midterms were homegrown, saying thousands of tweets were removed that sought to suppress the vote and that “we saw much less foreign manipulation.”

It aligns with activity Facebook reviewed in the lead-up to the November elections, which led to the removal of hundreds of pages and accounts that were largely U.S.-based.

Carlos Monje Jr., a company director of public policy, posted the review to Twitter’s blog and disclosed the social media platform “took action” on nearly 6,000 tweets around the midterms that were identified as attempted voter suppression.

Much of those, Monje’s post said, originated in the U.S. He wrote the removed content “attempted to influence an election by deterring groups of eligible voters, particularly through voter intimidation or providing false information about voting or registering to vote.”

In contrast, the company found “much less platform manipulation from bad-faith actors located abroad” than they did during the 2016 presidential election.

Likewise, Facebook revealed back in October it had removed more than 800 pages and accounts that had “consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

The social media giant’s head of cybersecurity, Nathaniel Gleicher, later said much of that activity was conducted by Americans.

“It makes sense when you think about it,” he said, according to Politico. “In order to run an information operation, the most important thing is that you understand the culture.”

The posts Twitter used as examples of voter suppression attempts included one posing as a Democratic organizing group telling people they could vote from home, and another telling Republicans to vote in a Michigan House race the day after the election.

More than 6,000 tweets were removed for engaging in voter suppression activities around the midterms.
More than 6,000 tweets were removed for engaging in voter suppression activities around the midterms. (Source: Twitter)

Twitter took a zero-tolerance policy around the midterms. Reuters reported in November that more than 10,000 automated accounts were deleted ahead of the elections that were posting misinformation about voting.

A number of tweets were also deleted and real accounts were suspended for jokes telling the other party to vote the day after the election. Facebook was similarly vigilant.

“In the lead up to the midterm elections, we built new tools and invested significant resources in expanding our capacity to take action against voter suppression,” a company spokeswoman told The Washington Post in November.

Foreign interference hasn’t entirely diminished on social media, however.

Facebook also revealed Thursday it removed nearly 800 pages with ties to Iran for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior. Many of those were directed toward Arabic-speaking audiences, looking to influence perception on issues like Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Gulf politics.

That followed an announcement two weeks ago that about 500 pages with ties to Russia were removed. Those accounts mostly posted about issues in former Soviet bloc countries, including more than 100 that posed as Ukrainian accounts.

And in November, Facebook blocked more than 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts for possible election meddling, based on a tip from U.S. law enforcement.

Twitter also said it had removed thousands of Iranian and Russian accounts, as well as more from Venezuela and Bangladesh.

Monje , the Twitter public policy director, wrote that the company will continue to “do our best to stay one step ahead while remaining humble in the face of potential new challenges.”

“Although we identified voter suppressive content of primarily domestic origin on Election Day, we cannot assume that this will be the dominant threat going forward,” Monje wrote.

While the decline in foreign interference was “good news,” he tweeted: “But more elections right around the corner.”

Copyright 2019 Gray Television Group, Inc. All rights reserved.