Monday, October 25, 2010

Yes, Delaware, There Is A Tea Party Twitter Bot Network

Researchers at Indiana University Bloomington's School of Informatics and Computing, who had developed tools to root-out Twitter-based political astroturfing campaigns, have uncovered a determined, bot-based smear campaign against Delaware Senate-candidate Chris Coons.

Delaware twitter users had started to suspect something fishy as the #netde hashtag, originally declared to help build an on-line community for the state, became polluted by out-of-state political tweets. It was bad during the republican primary -- bad enough that I tried a bit of back of the envelop analysis myself -- but has become really awful in the general election.

There are repeated tweets of a collection of allegations against Mr. Coons, continuing long after those allegations have been independently refuted. They are tweets with the same wording, or virtually the same wording, re-surfacing every day or so. They are always auto-retweeted from twitter accounts mostly outside of the state. When challenged, a few of those accounts respond as real people; most stay silent.

The Indiana University work -- and the "Truthy" web site the researchers have built -- came up in discussion about this phenomenon. Twitter user ôl ə twit′ər did some initial detective work to point the researchers in the right direction.
Following a tip from a user who flagged a handful of suspicious tweets smearing Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Delaware, the researchers uncovered a network of about 10 bot accounts. These bots have names like @krossnews, @BethlehemTweets, and @kingdomcast. They inject thousands of memes, all of which link to posts from the Freedomist.com website.
Interestingly, it was this freedomist web site that Christine O'Donnell quoted as her source for some of the "facts" she tried to establish in the celebrated "CNN debate" earlier this month.

This is what they call "astroturfing." It is a sign of a morally bankrupt campaign. It is a sign of a campaign that has no real ideas. It is a sign of desperation.

This is the Christine O'Donnell campaign.

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