Twitter cracks down on political propaganda bots with new regulations

22 Feb 2018

Twitter app. Image: BigTunaOnline/Shutterstock

Twitter is putting new constraints on how tweets can be automated on the platform.

The use of social media platforms for the manipulation of public opinion is still very much in the spotlight of late.

Companies such as Facebook and Twitter have discussed the issues with governments around the globe, and initiatives are beginning to take effect in order to restore an element of credibility to the platforms.

Twitter making major effort to fight misinformation

Twitter is implementing new limits on how apps and users can automate tweets to fight spam and political propaganda. In September 2017, the company said it found a number of accounts linked to manipulative political activities.

At the time, it made a statement: “We will continue to strengthen Twitter against attempted manipulation, including malicious automated accounts and spam, as well as other activities that violate our terms of service.”

As well as recent changes to political advertising rules and removal of verified badges from accounts spreading hate speech, the new automation rules are part of Twitter’s strategy to improve transparency and accountability.

Developers are no longer allowed to use systems that post “identical or substantially similar tweets” from a number of accounts at once and are also not allowed make bulk actions in terms of liking, retweeting and following across multiple accounts at once.

Multiple accounts will also not be allowed to post identical content with specific hashtags, in an effort to stop bot tweets from going viral.

The company said: “Posting duplicative or substantially similar content, replies or mentions over multiple accounts you control, or creating duplicate or substantially similar accounts, with or without the use of automation, is never allowed.”

TweetDeck will see these options removed, and third-party app developers have until 23 March to comply with the new rules.

Protecting crucial conversations

Twitter explained that these measures are “an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter – including elections in the United States and around the world”.

Many conservative Twitter users have been noticing a steep drop in followers as thousands of bot accounts were purged from the platform. While many right-wing figures are suspicious of a conspiracy against them, Twitter said it enforces its rules “without political bias”.

It added: “We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it.

“That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone.”

Twitter app. Image: BigTunaOnline/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects