In May, shortly after he went on a massive blocking spree, an audit of President Trump’s Twitter account revealed that almost 50 percent of his followers are fake. A month later, the person who created those fake accounts was also exposed.
According to the New York Daily News, the person behind the several million Twitter bots bolstering Trump’s ego is Robert Mercer, a “Republican mega-donor and staunch Trump supporter” who was once connected to IBM.
Mercer is a former computer scientist who helped develop the technology at IBM that later led to the creation of the Watson super-computer. Mercer also played an “integral” role in raising money for the Trump campaign while also connecting the president with people like his current chief adviser, Stephen Bannon.
Experts told the Daily News that these bots could be “weaponized” to help spread fake and misleading stories that would distract from the White House’s scandals and paint Trump and his administration in a more positive light.
Simon Crosby, who is the chief technology officer at a firm called Bromium, referenced the 2016 election and the U.K.’s Brexit referendum when he explained the potential the bots have to influence voters.
‘Fooling humans into doing things in the electronic realm turned out to be really easy.’
‘But with a few extra steps that seem available in the right circles, it could get even easier.’
Crosby and two other unnamed computer scientists went on to explain that some of the technology that is a part of Watson can “quickly build, test and deploy bots or virtual agents across mobile devices or messaging platforms to create natural conversations between apps and users.”
‘You have arbitrary and ridiculous information spread very quickly, and now to targeted user more susceptible to believing it and spreading it, and we now know that it influences people. We saw it in the election, with Brexit.’
‘Ultimately, the problem is that anybody can talk to anybody, especially if “anybody” is a bot on Twitter or Facebook who knows a lot about you.’
The scientists made it clear that Mercer definitely has the knowledge and experience necessary to launch a bot-operation for the president, especially considering one of his current investments.
The Daily News pointed out that Mercer has invested at least $5 million in a tech firm called Cambridge Analytica. This company, according to The New Yorker, “mines online data to reach and influence potential voters” and “uses secret psychological methods to pinpoint which messages are the most persuasive to individual online viewers.”
Crosby said that the technology Cambridge Analytica is using has already been utilized and could easily be implemented again to influence voters on social media. About the current situation, he commented:
‘We’re in deep trouble in the sense that it’s extraordinarily easy to automate a generation of arbitrarily absurd and ridiculous stuff.’
President Trump has openly said that social media, especially Twitter, was a key contributor to his November victory. That definitely seems to be the case, perhaps more than he — or anyone, for that matter — originally thought.
Featured image via JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images.