If there is one thing that stood out in the recent presidential election, aside from the bewilderment at the winner, it is the impact and influence that was able to be made through online platforms and social media websites. Most notably, as questions began to arise regarding the involvement of Russian-linked agents in meddling with the internal electoral process of the United States, many reports emerged showing thousands of social media accounts that had direct links to Russian origins, providing insight into the extent of influence that the foreign regime may have had.
As speculation quickly turned into confirmed fact, it became clear that Russia had been able to infiltrate the public opinion of voting American citizens through utilizing social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, using the generally open platforms as a means of disseminating propaganda and misinformation to users. In doing so, as Twitter has been able to track and suspend the accounts linked to Russian bots and cybercriminals, it has become clear that an overwhelming number of these fake accounts were aimed at right-wing conservatives, posting fabricated images and information in favor of Donald Trump, and against the Democratic party. Now, as Twitter has purged these fake accounts in order to better ensure the integrity of their platform and the news being dispersed, right-leaning Twitter users are up in arms over the loss of their “followers.”
According to a Gizmodo report:
‘Twitter suspended thousands of accounts overnight and conservatives on the platform aren’t happy about it. Twitter has yet to make a public statement about the issue, but right-wing users believe that they’re being targeted in a mass purge of suspected Russian bot accounts.
Conservative Twitter has even started a hashtag called #TwitterLockOut to talk about the purge, with some claiming that real people (as opposed to bots) were locked out of their accounts.’
After some conservative and far-right Twitter users claim they are losing followers and getting locked out of their accounts, the social media giant says its "tools are apolitical" and that it enforces its rules "without political bias" https://t.co/c59xyTDbLo pic.twitter.com/857RwYcNfk
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 21, 2018
Despite the fact that no real individuals seem to have yet been blocked from their accounts, it is clear that the conservatives are upset at the loss of support on the social media platform, especially in regards to the loss of followers for some. Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, co-editor of AltRight.com, claims that the purge has led to a decrease in the number of his followers, having lost nearly 1,000 followers since Twitter began suspending fake accounts.
I've lost close to 1,000 followers offer the past few hours.
Major purge underway.
— Richard ⛄️ Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) February 21, 2018
The twitter purge is real. You may have to refollow me after last night if you’re interested in my content. Twitter blocked me from twitter ads last night and purged thousands of followers. Spread the word. #TwitterLockOut @TwitterSupport @jack @twitter
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) February 21, 2018
The dramatic decrease in followers on conservative accounts, and consequent uproar from the right wing, provides insight into the extent of influence that Russian-linked accounts very well may have had on the opinion of the voting public, as the suspension of bot accounts is now causing outcry from real people on the platform.
Currently a whole bunch of Twitter accounts that have exhibited bot-like behavior are being asked to confirm their phone numbers before they can continue to post. Turns out a large number of conservative accounts have exhibited bot-like behavior. I know, I'm as shocked as you are
— Tom Coates (@tomcoates) February 21, 2018
Twitter has released a statement claiming that the platform’s tools and means of restrictions are apolitical, and have suspended accounts due to suspicious behavior and terms violations. Nevertheless, hardcore conservatives throughout the platform are attempting to make their voices heard, despite the fact that they are advocating for accounts that aren’t actually real people. This not only sheds light on the clear need for right-wing conservatives to be more aware of the propaganda that is being widely distributed, it also shows the reality of the Trump online supporter base as minimal, as numerous thousands are being identified as proxy accounts with no actual individual tied to them.
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