On July 9th, The Washington Post published a post (I like The Cybersecurity 202 – you might want to subscribe) about the deletion of more than 70 million Twitter accounts since May, at an astonishing rate of more than 1 million per day. There have been months of public criticism of Twitter for not doing enough to wipe out the bots and trolls that used Twitter to spread disinformation during the 2016 election.
If the suspensions continue at this rate, they could go a long way toward curbing the types of automated social media offensives the Russian government carried out in 2016. Part of what made the Kremlin's disinformation campaign so successful was its use of constantly tweeting bots to amplify divisive posts, inflame political tensions and mislead voters
"While it certainly won't stop the abuses and weaponization of this space, it makes it much harder on those trying to automate such acts," said Peter Singer, a strategist at the nonpartisan think tank New America. "Previously, the barriers to entry to automating abuse and disinformation were incredibly low. This was both because the corporate incentives were more focusing on user numbers and a general Silicon Valley problem of turning a blind eye to how their babies had grown up into battlefields."
Action finally took place after sustained pressure from Congress and internal reviews which revealed that tens of thousands of automated accounts were connected to the Russian government. It will take a lot of resources to keep this battle going and it will cause a dip in Twitter's monthly user numbers. A double-edged sword, this battle. And of course, the Russians will be looking for ways to end-run Twitter's defenses. As with all cybersecurity defenses, we are playing a complex game of whack-a-mole.
Twitter officials started arguing for a broader assault on the suspect accounts after learning that many bot accounts used by Russian operatives weren't actually created for disinformation campaigns but were existing accounts that were purchased on the black market.
Rather than merely assessing the content of individual tweets, Twitter began studying thousands of behavioral signals, such as whether users tweet at large numbers of accounts they don't follow, how often they are blocked by people they interact with, whether they have created many accounts from a single IP address, or whether they follow other accounts that are tagged as spam or bots.
Twitter is understandably concerned about its bottom line, but I am glad it finally recognized its duty to do something about interference with our elections prior to November.
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Digital Forensics/Information Security/Information Technology