April 8, 2016
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(ANTIMEDIA) Though presidential candidates are often (correctly) perceived as aggressive power-mongers pushing narratives favorable to their calculated personas, it turns out their campaigns’ strategies suffer from amateur shortcomings more often attributed to aspiring Instagram models than calculated megalomaniacs: fake social media accounts.
Veteran Republican digital strategist, Patrick Ruffini, has accused Trump’s campaign of orchestrating a fake Twitter call to action — a claim that has not been without protest.
Ruffini says Trump recently acquired a particularly active sect of Twitter champions; all 465 of them are enthusiastically pro-Trump and extremely concerned about a wave of robocalls launched by Ted Cruz’s campaign. Around the same time, they all tweeted urgings to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over Cruz’s apparently offensive phone calls.
“People with 0 Twitter followers seem very interested in filing complaints against Ted Cruz,” Ruffini also tweeted, noting many of the Twitter users sounding the call to action did not even follow Trump’s account. Many of the accounts tweeted other spam messages. The accounts also tweeted, ironically, about social media marketing, posting about other seemingly random subjects, as well.
When the Daily Caller began to analyze the accounts, they reported many of the Tweets were uniform:
“A search for ‘@tedcruz opted out robocalls’ turns up dozens of accounts sending out the exact same message. A search for ‘@tedcruz opted out emails’ returns the same, with many of the same accounts and the exact same wording.”
Ruffini’s rant spanned several tweets, noting the fervor and volume of the fake accounts’ sentiments:
Though the notion of the Trump campaign using poorly disguised robo-spam to attack Ted Cruz seems comical enough, once Ruffini’s findings began gaining traction, someone reportedly began scrubbing some of the tweets in question. The Daily Caller reported that after they saw Ruffini’s tweets and began looking into the pro-Trump, anti-Cruz tweets, the posts started to go missing. “These tweets have begun to disappear, but we’ve screen captured them,” the publication noted.
He also implied at least one fake account began tweeting at him after he pointed them out. “Using a botnet against me doesn’t exactly help your argument that you don’t run a botnet,” he said. It should be noted Ruffini is virulently “anti-Trump” and a conservative activist, who likely has his own motivations for highlighting the Trump campaign’s apparent attempt to manipulate social media in the presidential race. The establishment has been vocally anti-Trump, and as an anti-Trump Republican strategist, Ruffini is clearly not without bias. It should also be noted that Tucker Carlson, a Fox News pundit who owns the Daily Caller, has both praised and criticized Trump; the Daily Caller has also been accused of often untruthful, right-leaning sensationalism. Ruffini has already been accused of disinformation by at least one fervent Trump supporter who also accused the Daily Caller of being paid off.
MicroChip went so far as to accuse Ruffini of using fake accounts to make the hashtag #NeverTrump trend, muddling the lines between real and fake and making it even more unclear who to trust — if anyone. Ruffini referenced MicroChip in a tweet, claiming his nearly 90,000 followers were amassed since the account was created in March.
MicroChip responded to that allegation with a screenshot of a post from his account in February.
Though it is becoming increasingly unclear who is manipulating social media in this instance — whether the Trump campaign, Ruffini, or both of them — Trump’s campaign was accused of organizing fake tweets earlier this year. Many tweets said the exact same thing within a few minutes of each other:
Analyses of presidential candidate’s Twitter followers have long shown their proclivity for employing fake accounts. Both Trump and Clinton have over one million fake followers each, according to twitteraudit.com, which estimates the number of spam followers for any given Twitter handle. According to Twitter Audit, Trump has a total of 5,109,773 real followers and 1,613,612 fake followers, making 76% of his audience authentic. Clinton has 4,638,454 real and 1,255,388 fake, amounting to a 79% authenticity rating. Ted Cruz bests both candidates, with 844,629 real and 172,996 fake, which makes 83% of his followers real. Bernie Sanders comes in as the most authentic of the four, with 1,540,968 real, 190,457 fake, and 89% authenticity.
While it’s likely some of the millions of spam accounts following Trump, Clinton, and others’ accounts voluntarily followed them — rather than being commissioned by the campaigns — it’s highly unlikely this is the case for all of them. Purchasing Twitter followers it not a new strategy, and many famous celebrities are guilty of the ruse. President Barack Obama has also been found to have millions of fake followers. The U.S. government, itself, uses “sock puppet” accounts to control the conversation online.
Compared to planting pundits and making threats, using fake Twitter followers may seem benign, but the intention remains the same as more extreme forms of media manipulation: to force narratives on the public in the hopes of amassing power and influence.
Whether it is Trump, Ruffini, or any other actor with a political agenda, the ongoing Twitter battle reveals how easy it is to mislead the public on digital platforms.
This article (Trump Accused of Using Fake Twitter Accounts to Manipulate the Election) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Carey Wedler and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11 pm Eastern/8 pm Pacific. Image credit: Gage Skidmore. If you spot a typo, please email the error and name of the article at firstname.lastname@example.org.