A handful of Twitter bots created earlier this week tweeted hundreds of times a day to help make the hashtag #TrudeauMustGo a national trending topic in Canada, deepening concerns about how online discourse can be manipulated ahead of the federal election.
The discovery, first reported Thursday by the National Observer, was made after an analysis of 31,600 tweets containing the hashtag on Tuesday and Wednesday raised serious suspicions.
The National Observer found several telltale signs of inauthentic activity in the tweets. Many accounts tweeted more than 100 times a day, an indicator that the posts were likely automated.
The news organization also found that more than two dozen of the accounts were created in the past two days and immediately began flooding Twitter with #TrudeauMustGo tweets. Some of those accounts have since been suspended.
Dave Salisbury, a cybersecurity expert with the University of Dayton, said some of the accounts do appear “a bit bot-ish.”
“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,” he told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
The user responsible for the most #TrudeauMustGo tweets was @CanadaProud10, which managed to tweet the hashtag 119 times. Twitter has suspended the account.
Salisbury said bots are often created in hopes of manufacturing a particular narrative that may not be true.
“You might use a bot to get a snowball rolling down the hill, and then hopefully other people glom onto it,” he said.
Legitimate accounts did join in on the hashtag. Other users showed support for the prime minister with #TrudeauMustStay, but that hashtag had a smaller reach.
The trouble with bots, Salisbury said, is that messages pushed by fraudulent accounts are often too late to correct, even after they’ve been suspended.
“Winston Churchill once said, ‘A lie is halfway around the world by the time the truth gets its pants on.’ And with Twitter, I think it makes it all the way around,” he said.
Twitter has taken strong measures to crack down on fake users. Last year, the website suspended more than 70 million accounts in a span of just two months.