Anybody who tweets out against real estate mogul Donald Trump immediately get swarmed by hordes of vicious pro-Trump Twitter accounts. It turns out many of those accounts appear to be fake and part of a coordinated campaign.
The speculation about the phoniness of the Trump Twitter army began with a post by Erick Erickson in The Resurgent, and he bases his conjecture on three main points:
- There are professional Internet trolls who have the specific purpose of inciting chaos in the U.S. through social media, such as spreading a hoax Ebola case in Atlanta as well as a hoax story of cops shooting an unarmed black woman. Most of them were shut down, but the ones that are still active are supporting Trump.
- Numerous reports suggest that Trump bought crowd members for his campaign launch in June.
- An organization called Crowds on Demand has protesters for sale to appear at various events and harass people on social media.
Erickson then relayed his own personal anecdotes involving what was likely Trump spam bots:
Last Tuesday night, my radio show saw a wave of callers calling in to complain about what I was saying that very night on radio. The callers assured my call screener they were listening. The calls were coming from area codes all over the nation and they were very angry about what I had just said on the radio that very night about Trump.
I was on vacation. The guest host had been talking about local matters and had not even mentioned Trump. Hello, seminar callers. Likewise, many of the calls to my radio station demanding I be fired or disciplined for insulting Trump have come from people making statements about my radio show that clearly indicate they have not listened to the show or the station.
Similarly, whenever I get a wave of emails attacking me for things about Trump, frequently the same IP address pops up. On Twitter, the waves come from people with rarely used or new Twitter accounts that are suddenly all in for Trump — every tweet an attack against someone or Trump propaganda. More often than not, the accounts have pictures of someone other than the the person tweeting and most do not use real names.
Certainly it could be people with low social connectedness, as Michael Barone has noted, but it sure seems odd to suddenly get a a wave of #whitegenocide tweets from accounts that are just suddenly active and all in to attack people who oppose Trump.
Erickson's piece went viral on social media and planted the seedlings of the possibility that most of Trump's army was "astroturf." Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini later found further evidence to support Erickson's hypothesis:
People with 0 Twitter followers seem very interested in filing complaints against Ted Cruz. pic.twitter.com/FZBVVWC36V— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
Same Twitter users concerned about Cruz robocalls also simultaneously tweeted 17 Marketing Tips for B2B Websites. pic.twitter.com/CY0QZL4vJ2— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
465 Twitter users collectively urged people to complain to the FCC about Cruz robocalls.— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
These "users" have collectively generated 1.786M tweets over the last 30 days.— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
These 465 accounts generated 411K tweets about Trump over the last 30 days.— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
This group also collectively retweeted @DanScavino 13,000 times.— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
But they're not just interested in Trump, but in a wide range of topics. pic.twitter.com/G0f04ibJVQ— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
They also take an intense interest in "fashion beauty news" pic.twitter.com/W3HySOF1Tf— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
It appears that none of this group of people (who have tweeted about Trump almost 1,000 times in the last month on avg.) actually follow him— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
Lol. Now the spambots are retweeting this. For some reason. https://t.co/1pKurxaLiE— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
After Ruffini's revelations received some serious buzz on Twitter, the Twitter bots in question suddenly removed their tweets. But the Internet is forever:
Well, well, it appears that all instances of that Cruz FCC tweet that I called out have been scrubbed from the Internet.— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
If this were the work of amateurs why would they want to hide it? The tweet itself seems fairly innocuous, given what Trump himself has said— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
TrumpBot tweets I collected last night now disappeared. Also includes likely bot accounts. https://t.co/bPIwQYu937— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
Fwiw some accounts that are tweeting anti-Cruz spam also tweeting porn at me— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) April 8, 2016
The Daily Caller's Derek Hunter dug deeper in the Trump Twitterverse and searched "@tedcruz opted out robocalls" and "@tedcruz opted out emails" and found numerous accounts tweeting about the two topics using the same wording verbatim. Like the accounts Ruffini found, the accounts Hunter discovered also deleted their tweets but he took screenshots as proof. For instance, the Twitter user @KhalyMauna tweeted out: "If you've opted out of @TedCruz robocalls and are still receiving calls, u can file a complaint with the #FCC" as well as "If you've opted @Ted Cruz but are still receive emails, see below and send complaint to [email protected]" Another user with the Twitter handle @cliffjordan tweeted out tweets that worded the same same way as @KhalyMauna's tweets, as did the Twitter account that goes by @edsonsuzigan.
Most of @KhalyMauna's tweets are in Italian and spits out spam advertising in both French and Russian. Hunter found that the only time @KhalyMauna ever tweeted about politics was the two Cruz tweets. No mention of Trump whatsoever on his Twitter timeline. Additionally, the @cliffjordan account mostly tweets advertisements, and the @edsonsuzigan account tweeted out a petition calling for President Barack Obama to grant clemency for a person named Corvain Cooper. The @edsonsuzigan wrote the tweet as "Please Sign Petition" with a link to the petition. There was another account that also tweeted out "Please Sign Petition" with a link to a petition to grant clemency to Cooper, and that account [email protected]
The coordinated campaign effort by these Trump bots may have been going on for quite some time. For instance, a Detriot Free-Press reporter noticed this curious set of tweets back in February after Trump's massive win in the Nevada caucus:
It appears Trump campaign created spam accounts with Latino names who all tweeted exact same thing in past 2 minutes pic.twitter.com/wHacPOK3qM— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 24, 2016
3) At 12:55-56 am EST on 2-24, Trump said in Nevada: "You know what I'm really happy about...46% with the Hispanics" https://t.co/rwTXIgKmMx— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
4) The flurry of pro-Trump tweets from Latino names with the same words came at 12:57 am, one right after the other: pic.twitter.com/uVQw3WxMxN— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
7) Right after Trump tweet, the Latino accounts all tweeted this, as if providing a reason for their Trump support: pic.twitter.com/evTxmC81yT— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
8) The tone of the "f---" tweet after Trump tweet tries to say Latinos should be free to support Trump regardless if others may disapprove.— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
Warikoo speculated that the source of the tweet came from a Univision reporter:
12) It appears the text of spam tweets for Trump was lifted from tweet at 12:21 am EST by journalist with Univision pic.twitter.com/RIWiualuYE— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
As was the case with the Twitter bots spamming the Cruz complaints, these same Twitter bots deleted their tweets and two of them had their accounts suspended:
11) Also, two of the accounts that posted the Trump tweets at 12:57 am on 2-24 have been suspended: pic.twitter.com/iRIDvDMkkz— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
All of this led Warikoo to speculate exactly what Erickson and Ruffini have been speculating:
13) And so in conclusion, we can't say for sure who generated those tweets from Latino accounts on Caucus night in Nevada, but it...— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
14) ...does seem it was timed and done in a way with fake accounts to help trick the public into thinking that Trump has big Latino support.— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) February 27, 2016
Whatever is the source of the spam, there does seem to be a coordinated effort of Twitter bots to overinflate Trump's support on social media, which would certainly explain why Trump holds overwhelming leads in online polls. It's something that Twitter users should be wary of going forward.