November 3, 2017 News · Press Releases and Announcements

STATEMENT FROM DPVA CHAIRWOMAN SUSAN SWECKER ON REPORTS OF INTERFERENCE IN THE VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL RACE


by Prateek Mishra

STATEMENT FROM DPVA CHAIRWOMAN SUSAN SWECKER ON REPORTS OF INTERFERENCE IN THE VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL RACE

Below is a statement from DPVA Chairwoman Susan Swecker on a report from Politico that "Twitter bots are swarming into the Virginia governor’s race" in an effort to undermine Dr. Ralph Northam's campaign for governor: 

"It looks like Ed Gillespie and Donald Trump have another thing in common. Ed Gillespie's campaign is using Russian style tactics to stoke racial divisions. These bots would even make Vladmir Putin blush."

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Politico: Bots stoke racial strife in Virginia governor's race

By KEVIN ROBILLARD

11/03/2017 05:35 PM EDT

Twitter bots are swarming into the Virginia governor’s race and promoting chatter about a racially charged Democratic ad days before Election Day, according to a report commissioned by allies of Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign.

The activity centers on an ad from Latino Victory Fund, depicting a child’s nightmare in which a supporter of Republican Ed Gillespie chases immigrant children in a pickup truck bearing a Confederate flag. Gillespie’s campaign reacted furiously to the ad, which barely ran on TV but got major attention online, and has made backlash to the Democratic ad a major part of its closing message.

That backlash erupted quickly, and Latino Victory Fund later retracted the ad. But the reaction has been amplified on Twitter by automated accounts. Out of the 15 accounts tweeting most frequently about the Latino Victory Fund ad, 13 belong to fully or partially automated bots, according to an analysis from Discourse Intelligence. (The other two accounts are Republican political operatives.)

“Highly scripted, highly robotic accounts are being used to boost this message into the Twitter conversation,” said Tim Chambers, the U.S. practice lead for digital at the Dewey Square Group, which owns Discourse Intelligence. The firm was retained by the National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate has endorsed Northam.

Of the 15 accounts most frequently sending out messages about the ad from Latino Victory Fund, just two accounts belonging to GOP operatives were human, while 13 belonged to either fully or partially automated bots, according to the report from Discourse Intelligence. The National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate backs Northam, paid for the report.

The 15 accounts highlighted in the report have the potential to reach 651,000 people, the report says. It notes these accounts just make up less than 1 percent of the nearly 3,000 accounts with tweets including both “Latino victory” and either “Gillespie” or “Northam.”

A spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who is helping lead the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the incident mirrors past bot attempts to “manipulate” social media conversations. Warner and other senators, including Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have also warned during their investigation about attempts to interfere in future American elections as well.

“What we saw during the 2016 presidential campaign was a consistent and coordinated effort by trolls and bots to ‘flood the zone’ to manipulate the conversation on social media,” Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said. “Twitter’s anonymity, reach and speed make it the perfect platform for spreading fake information and hyper partisan content.”

Chambers also said more than 400 suspicious accounts have followed Northam’s campaign Twitter account in recent days, with many of them tweeting mostly in Turkish or eastern European languages.

The NEA paid for the report as an in-kind donation to the Northam campaign.

“NEA has followed the race very closely and has commissioned research reports on a variety of topics, including the role of social media in amplifying messages about issues in the election,” the union said. “One of those reports disclosed significant information about the use of automated bots to create an echo chamber of anti-public education and anti-social justice attacks.”

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