If you spent any time on Twitter on Tuesday evening, you will have probably noticed a particular hashtag that was trending across the country, #TrudeauMustGo. As the federal election in October draws nearer, the pressure on Canadian politicians is increasing, and things are no different for current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.
As Canadians took to social media to cast a critical eye over Trudeau, the hashtag #TrudeauMustGo started trending, Canada-wide. While, at first glance, this would appear to show a particular dissatisfaction with the current Prime Minister, new reports have revealed that something else could have been at play.
According to a report, first publicized by the National Observer, a number of Twitter bots were created around the time of the hashtag, with the purpose of helping #TrudeauMustGo to start trending Canada-wide.
The bots were found to have tweeted hundreds of times every day, in order to help maintain the hashtag as a trending topic. To investigate the impact of the bots, the National Observer analysed 31,600 tweets that contained the hashtag on Wednesday and Thursday, and concluded the hashtag raised “serious suspicions.”
There was reportedly a number of signs that led reporters to believe not all of the tweets were authentic, including finding accounts that were tweeting about the topic more than 100 times daily, a rate that was described as “non-human.”
Further, a vast number of accounts were found to have only been active for one or two days prior to the trend. These, the National Observer concluded, were more likely to be automated accounts, rather than real people.
Pointing out inauthentic activity and social manipulation is not a partisan act. Whether you're tweeting… https://t.co/r3HE1eJHeU— Caroline Orr Bueno, Ph.D (@Caroline Orr Bueno, Ph.D) 1563468009.0
A reminder that elections aren’t fought on twitter and that it’s only the fourth most used social media platform in… https://t.co/fp3j7nhsQC— Will Wuehr (@Will Wuehr) 1563558049.0
Speaking to CTV News, cybersecurity expert Dave Salisbury confirmed that several of the accounts tweeting out the hashtag do seem to be “a bit bot-ish.” He added, “I mean, is it possible that somebody could knock out 20 tweets an hour for 12 hours a day? Yeah, but I would hope you’ve got better things to do with your time.”
While the trending topic against Trudeau would appear to suggest that the Canadian public opinion of the Prime Minister is at an all-time-low, the National Observer commented that things were anything but clear.
Their report noted that as many as 400 of the accounts tweeting were likely U.S. profiles, as many accounts featured the word “MAGA,” which cannot be considered an accurate reflection of the Canadian mindset.
Further, some accounts were pumping out up to 313 tweets per day, suggesting that their responses are at least partially, if not fully, automated.
The reason for this, Salisbury says, is to create an impression of a particular narrative, whether it is true or not. He said, “You might use a bot to get a snowball rolling down the hill, and then hopefully other people glom onto it.” Which, they did. While it is believed a number of bots could have been instrumental in the trend, there was also definitely a number of legitimate accounts involved in the hashtag.
I am not a bot. I am real. #TrudeauMustGo https://t.co/ujExun20kl— Liam Rothwell 🇨🇦🏴 (@Liam Rothwell 🇨🇦🏴) 1563563095.0
@RVAwonk @NatObserver Is Twitter complicit in the bot problem because you don't need to validate the email address… https://t.co/vJO9fxQd8e— Ken Munro (@Ken Munro) 1563456565.0
The problem with bots, Salisbury noted, is that by the time the narrative posted by the fake accounts is out in the world, it becomes quite difficult to change it.
To combat the problem, Twitter has taken measures to crack down on fake profiles. Last year, Twitter is reported to have suspended more than 70 million accounts, in just two months.