A small army of Twitter bots focused on party leaders last year

A small army of Twitter bots focused on party leaders last year

A group of more than 500 Twitter accounts have interfered with Dutch politics in the past year. Usually this is done automatically, and sometimes there is someone behind it. The target, for example, is PVV leader Geert Wilders, but D66 leader Sigrid Kaag, for example, is also involved.

From joint research PointerDe Groene Amsterdammer and NOS show that the accounts have sent more than 63,000 tweets to party leaders in incumbent parliamentary parties in more than a year. On average, this amounts to around 170 tweets per day.

Coordinated actions

Ninety percent of accounts come from outside the Netherlands. Wilders’ tweets – about Turkey, Islam, and my home visitors – led to concerted campaigns from Turkey, India, Pakistan and fans of K-pop. Last year, when there was a lot of discussion about European aid money due to the Coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Rutte (via markrutte and minpres) was bombed by Italian and Spanish spammers because the Netherlands was interested in financial support for southern Europe.

In a video that has been circulating a lot during that period, you can see how a garbage worker is asking the Prime Minister not to transfer money to Italy and Spain. “Oh, no, no,” Rottie replies, “I’ll remember this,” raising his thumb. English tweet about this Then the robots urged unwanted messages to be sent to the prime minister.

The refugee crises in Iraq and Eritrea also included coordinated action. A group of accounts, 26 of which, this time targets Rottie, Cage, and also GroenLinks party leader Jesse Clapper. The purpose of the accounts is to appeal to politicians and explain how dangerous the situation is.

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An old man from Gelderland

Sometimes it turns out that the person present is also behind the controls. The investigation shows an old man from Gelderland managing fifteen accounts on the social network. He sends 400 tweets a day to the ministers. He says this does not happen automatically. “No, I’m just a 75-year-old guy sitting on his smartphone. I don’t even have a computer.”

The account that politicians often like is PeterBrekelmans. It was created at the end of 2019, but it will not become active until October of 2020. One-third of all tweets (more than 120,000 in total) are directed at Dutch party leaders. Twitter suspended the account around March 8th.

Further investigation shows that the accounts are registered with contact details for a company in Drenthe. The company appears to be involved in a breach; Login details were stolen and then used to log in to the account.

Impact on ‘core material’

“We have the kind of internet where you no longer know whether people are real or not,” says Richard Rogers, a professor of new media and digital culture (UvA). When asked about the impact of these accounts, he replied that for journalists and opinion makers, Twitter is often the primary material for creating stories. “They look at what’s popular, and that’s exactly what the trolls are trying to influence.”

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