Twitter allowing BuzzFeed to dictate which accounts are 'propaganda' accounts

It's rare that two corporations cooperate on anything, much less the politically charged topic of "propaganda."  But Twitter has apparently given the website BuzzFeed the power to identify suspected "propaganda" accounts on the social media giant that Twitter can then suspend.

I frankly don't care if every one of those accounts is part of a Russian propaganda plot.  That's not the issue.  The issue is two liberal companies cooperating to interfere with the free flow of information. 

Who's to say that BuzzFeed won't start flagging sites it disagrees with politically?  Would Twitter accede to the dictates of BuzzFeed then?

The 45 suspect accounts were uncovered through basic analysis of those that interacted or retweeted accounts cited by Twitter to Congress, yet none of them appeared on the company's list.

The relative ease of discovery raises serious questions as to just how many Russian-linked bots may still be active on Twitter, how the company identifies and removes such accounts, and whether its process for identifying accounts for its evidence was inadequate.

Until BuzzFeed News approached Twitter on Tuesday afternoon with details of the accounts, they all remained active on the platform, though dormant. But within 24 hours, all 45 had been suspended.

The network of propaganda accounts was identified using a database of 17 million Brexit-related tweets collected by the University of Sheffield. They tweeted predominantly in German, and were primarily focused on jumping on German hashtag games and other trending topics, often inserting negative messages about the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

However, 20 of the accounts also tweeted about Trump, and 21 about Brexit – with a huge spike of activity on the day of the referendum, 23 June 2016. The tweets about Trump and Brexit were often the only ones the accounts posted in English.

Damian Collins, the Conservative chair of the UK parliament's culture, media, and sport committee – which is holding an inquiry into fake news and online propaganda – said the findings showed the information handed over by the social media platform so far was "only the tip of a very large iceberg".

"This BuzzFeed investigation clearly calls into question the evidence that Twitter provided to the US Senate judiciary and intelligence committees and demonstrates that whatever process the company undertook to identify Russian-backed fake accounts was simply not rigorous enough," he said.

"The findings of this report raise serious questions about the methodology used by Twitter to identify fake content on their platform, and how seriously they are taking investigations by governments and parliaments around the world."

BuzzFeed used keywords to flag accounts it believes are connected to Russian propaganda.  That's a dangerous method to employ, considering that other, innocent accounts could also use those keywords and thus get caught up in BuzzFeed's dragnet. 

Who decides what's "propaganda," anyway?  How many conservative and liberal accounts on Twitter spread or create propaganda?  Are liberal accounts that have been tweeting about the Trump dossier a source of anti-Trump propaganda and fake news?  Should conservative accounts that spread lies about Democrats be considered "fake news"?  These attempts to "clean up" the internet are being done with little thought about the consequences to free speech.

One wonders if Twitter would be so conscientious if a conservative website pointed out propaganda accounts on the left.

It's rare that two corporations cooperate on anything, much less the politically charged topic of "propaganda."  But Twitter has apparently given the website BuzzFeed the power to identify suspected "propaganda" accounts on the social media giant that Twitter can then suspend.

I frankly don't care if every one of those accounts is part of a Russian propaganda plot.  That's not the issue.  The issue is two liberal companies cooperating to interfere with the free flow of information. 

Who's to say that BuzzFeed won't start flagging sites it disagrees with politically?  Would Twitter accede to the dictates of BuzzFeed then?

The 45 suspect accounts were uncovered through basic analysis of those that interacted or retweeted accounts cited by Twitter to Congress, yet none of them appeared on the company's list.

The relative ease of discovery raises serious questions as to just how many Russian-linked bots may still be active on Twitter, how the company identifies and removes such accounts, and whether its process for identifying accounts for its evidence was inadequate.

Until BuzzFeed News approached Twitter on Tuesday afternoon with details of the accounts, they all remained active on the platform, though dormant. But within 24 hours, all 45 had been suspended.

The network of propaganda accounts was identified using a database of 17 million Brexit-related tweets collected by the University of Sheffield. They tweeted predominantly in German, and were primarily focused on jumping on German hashtag games and other trending topics, often inserting negative messages about the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

However, 20 of the accounts also tweeted about Trump, and 21 about Brexit – with a huge spike of activity on the day of the referendum, 23 June 2016. The tweets about Trump and Brexit were often the only ones the accounts posted in English.

Damian Collins, the Conservative chair of the UK parliament's culture, media, and sport committee – which is holding an inquiry into fake news and online propaganda – said the findings showed the information handed over by the social media platform so far was "only the tip of a very large iceberg".

"This BuzzFeed investigation clearly calls into question the evidence that Twitter provided to the US Senate judiciary and intelligence committees and demonstrates that whatever process the company undertook to identify Russian-backed fake accounts was simply not rigorous enough," he said.

"The findings of this report raise serious questions about the methodology used by Twitter to identify fake content on their platform, and how seriously they are taking investigations by governments and parliaments around the world."

BuzzFeed used keywords to flag accounts it believes are connected to Russian propaganda.  That's a dangerous method to employ, considering that other, innocent accounts could also use those keywords and thus get caught up in BuzzFeed's dragnet. 

Who decides what's "propaganda," anyway?  How many conservative and liberal accounts on Twitter spread or create propaganda?  Are liberal accounts that have been tweeting about the Trump dossier a source of anti-Trump propaganda and fake news?  Should conservative accounts that spread lies about Democrats be considered "fake news"?  These attempts to "clean up" the internet are being done with little thought about the consequences to free speech.

One wonders if Twitter would be so conscientious if a conservative website pointed out propaganda accounts on the left.

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