Twitter under fire from UK government over Russian influence in 2017 election


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

April 29, 2018 | 3 min read

Twitter has been criticised by the UK government in wake of an expose into how Russian accounts run by 'bots' may have influenced the 2017 general election.


Russian Twitter 'bots' tried to swing general election

According to an investigation by The Times, in conjunction with Swansea University, over 6,500 Russian Twitter accounts (many of which were identified as fake), were found to have promoted positive messages about the Labour leader in the lead up to the general election.

It found that 80% of the ‘bot’ accounts were created just weeks before the 8 June vote.

In the lead up to the election, nine out of 10 messages from Russian accounts about the Labour party campaign were positive while nine out of 10 tweets about the Conservatives were negative.

Though he ultimately failed to win the election, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saw support rise from 25% to 40% over the course of the campaign.

The Times cited academics who warned that the fake accounts identified “are just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Russian meddling in British politics.

Responding to the investigation, Matt Hancock, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said the new “revelations are extremely concerning” and demanded that Twitter reveal the scale of the problem.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for any nation to attempt to interfere in the democratic elections of another country. The social media companies need to act to safeguard our democratic discourse and reveal what they know,” he said.

The Labour Party has denied knowledge of fake Russian accounts supporting its campaign.

“The Labour Party’s people-powered election campaign attracted huge levels of public support online. We were not aware of any from automated bots, categorically did not pay for any and are not aware of any of our supporters doing so,” it said.

Meanwhile Twitter said it has been working for considerable time to identify and remove fake and ‘bot’ accounts and was continuing the improvement of its systems “to detect and prevent new forms of spam and malicious automation”.

Earlier this month the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) called for a “moratorium” of micro-targeted political ads on social media.

It came following the scandal surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and their influence over the vote for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

IPA President Sarah Golding said at the time: “Politics relies on the public square - on open, collective debate. We, however, believe micro-targeted political ads circumvent this. Very small numbers of voters can be targeted with specific messages that exist online only briefly. In the absence of regulation, we believe this almost hidden form of political communication is vulnerable to abuse.”


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