The 2020 presidential race is continuing to heat up, and again, just like in 2016, the internet and more specifically social media are proving to be an important battleground. The Italian firm Ghost Data has revealed the results of a study of political activity on Instagram that’s uncovered hundreds of accounts — around 350, to be exact — that seem to have been engaging in a coordinated attempt to wage opposition to President Donald Trump. Some of the identified accounts have been removed on account of having broken site rules, which prohibit behavior like impersonating someone or some organization and “acting in tandem with other accounts to spew out vitriolic messages,” as Reuters puts it.
Ghost Data’s head of research Andrea Stoppa shared:
‘We have uncovered a small operation that is very likely part of something bigger. I get the feeling that someone out there is experimenting. Testing the waters. They know what they are doing.’
Indeed — they’re apparently going after Donald Trump, who hasn’t exactly been one to make friends while in office (just check his Twitter feed).
The researchers began their inquiry by looking for accounts that used hashtags like “#impeachtrump,” then narrowing down their collection to those that seemed to be exclusively for political messaging. From the about 350 that they had after that stage, researchers found a further isolated group of about 19 accounts that appeared to be interlinked. Although Instagram has one billion monthly active users, making even the original 52,000 generally anti-Trump accounts the researchers identified little more than a drop in the bucket, the 19 cooperating accounts garnered some 440,000 interactions since last August when they started to emerge, more than half of which have unfolded just since March.
Ironically, Instagram has just recently unveiled steps to take on misinformation like Stroppa and Ghost Data suggest the accounts in question were spreading. Just this month, they announced plans to begin suppressing hashtags that promote conspiracy theories about vaccines, a move that has good timing considering the ongoing measles outbreak across the United States that features hundreds and hundreds of cases and is the worst in decades.
Stroppa says that the latest supposed anti-Trump misinformation their company identified consists of “some of the same tactics used to attack Hillary Clinton in 2016,” although to be clear, there is absolutely no apparent evidence that any of the accounts have anything to do with a foreign power and people make connected accounts on social media platforms more for a cause than personal usage all the time. In the age of Trump, what Ghost Data has identified could be considered inevitable.
Trump has so far attracted the opposition of some two dozen Democratic presidential primary candidates, including recent race entrants like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and more powerful candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The campaign will only get more heated in coming months — next month alone, Trump is reportedly set to offer an official public launch for his own re-election campaign, and Democratic candidate debates will get underway, with a full dozen planned for the coming months.
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