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  • Extremely American

Elon Musk: There is a New Sheriff in town at Twitter as Enemies of the US are Discovering

Updated: Nov 6, 2022

Twitter ‘Staying Vigilant against Attempts to Manipulate Conversations about the 2022 US Midterms’ after Musk Takeover

By: Naveen Athrappully

November 2, 2022 (updated): Twitter took down six “inauthentic” networks with technical links to China and Iran that had sent tweets about the upcoming November midterm elections, according to an independent analysis, which stated that the actors sought to amplify strong views on polarizing issues in American politics.

“We’re staying vigilant against attempts to manipulate conversations about the 2022 U.S. midterms,” said Twitter’s head of safety, Yoel Roth, in a tweet reshared by the platform’s new owner, Elon Musk. Renee DiResta, one of the authors of the report, said, “Technical indicators tie three to China, three to Iran. Activity fairly standard: create caricature American personas, ingratiate into communities via follower [train]s & #FBR, create or boost hot takes.”

The report, prepared by analysts from the Digital Forensic Research Lab and the Stanford Internet Observatory, said that the content put out by the networks focused on the midterm elections, and U.S. politics, with one network broadening into the Russia–Ukraine war and America’s foreign policy on China.

The networks were made to appear as if they came from within the United States, but technical indicators suggested China and Iran, with one additionally suggesting Israel. Twitter disrupted the networks before they managed to garner significant reach. The most-engaged tweet had 31,303 engagements, and of the 705,864 tweets spanning the six sets, 592,333 had zero likes, said the report.

Key Takeaways

The accounts focused on issues that correlated with China and Iran’s strategic interests. Iranian networks targeted communities and topics which expressed positive sentiments toward American progressive-left candidates, and who supported policies favorable to the regime in Tehran, while actors linked to China were interested in American politicians’ comments on Taiwan and stance toward China.

The report talked about “follow-back” or “follow-train” behaviors—referring to follow-for-follow efforts—which were adopted by the accounts to integrate themselves into highly active political communities and stoke up already-high emotions.

China-linked networks, on one hand, propagated conservative issues like election integrity, referencing the documentary “2000 Mules” and keywords like “stolen election,” while other accounts supported left-wing talking points like gun control. “One interesting account, ’10 Votes,’ looked like a Progressive advocacy org w/profiles on many platforms (YT, Insta, Reddit, TikTok, Twitter). Had memes articulating prog policies, amplified activism (petitions, marches), but also endorsed candidates, boosted ActBlue links,” said DiResta. “Endorsement activity included Senate as well as downballot races, incl one for County Commissioner. That degree of specificity is uncommon.”

Chinese Network, Twitter Moderators

APAC3, a pro-China network, controlled 1,872 accounts with more than 310,000 tweets, mostly in English and Mandarin, and a smaller proportion in Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Bengali, and Korean. Even though some accounts were created back in 2009, there was overwhelmingly activity between December 2021 and early October 2022:

The network focused on pro-China and anti-Western content in relation to Hong Kong, Taiwan, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, with the most prevalent hashtags being #China, #VladimirPutin, and #AmazingChina. The most active accounts made references to China using the Chinese flag emoji.

Twitter has been accused of left-wing bias in its content moderation as the platform censored multiple Republican and conservative figures since early 2021. According to a Bloomberg reporter who cited anonymous sources, most content moderation staff have had their tools locked since the Musk takeover.

Usually, hundreds of people on the team could remove posts with alleged misinformation, the reporter wrote, saying, it’s now down to 15 people.”


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