Twitter has suspended or locked down thousands of suspected ‘bot’ accounts in a so-called ‘Twitter lockout’, and conservatives on the platform are freaking the hell out over what they describe as a deliberate “political crackdown”.
So, here’s the skinny for those of you who – rightfully – do not venture into the partisan hellpit that is Twitter. There are a shitload of bots on Twitter; accounts which pump out hundreds of tweets a day without a real person sitting behind the keyboard. Many of these accounts are nakedly political, and have probably been created by someone for astroturfing purposes.
They’re common on all sides of the political debate, but there always seems like there’s many more conservative ones. This could be because conservatives scream the same talking points over and over to the point that it looks like they’re stuck in a loop. The more conspiracy-minded say that the bots are part of the alleged Russian effort to interfere with the U.S. election and make Trump president.
(Some of them almost surely are created by Russian troll farms. But it’s worth mentioning that the bot scourge has been going for almost as long as Twitter has existed.)
Either way, Twitter occasionally does a big ol’ purge of accounts they reckon aren’t being run by real people or organisations. This time, conservatives are up in arms, claiming that they’re losing thousands of followers because of Twitter’s mass suspension. They’re calling it the ‘Twitter lockout’.
Here’s a tweet from avowed white nationalist Richard Spencer:
I’ve lost close to 1,000 followers offer the past few hours.
Major purge underway.
— Richard Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) February 21, 2018
Here’s one from demented Infowars conspiracist Paul Joseph Watson:
Who else lost thousands of followers overnight?
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) February 21, 2018
And one from conservative/alt-right journalist Cassandra Fairbanks:
Many lesser conservatives, who didn’t have thousands of followers to lose in the first place, are taking to the hashtag #TwitterLockout to complain about the so-called ‘purge’.
It’s worth noting that some of the heavy hitters who complained about losing thousands of followers are gaining them back, after the locked users confirmed they were real by providing a phone number.
Folks, many of the followers you may have lost in the overnight “purge” may actually just be from Twitter locking some accounts until they confirm their identities. As these people confirm, your lost followers return. We’ll see. I’ve already gained back 1200 this morning.
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) February 21, 2018
If your tweets can’t be distinguished by an algorithm from a bot pumping out hundreds of predetermined political messages a day, then maybe it’s time you had a bit of a break and a lie down. Just turn your phone off for a day or two, mmkay?
For Twitter’s part, the company denies that there is any political motivation to their current policy:
Twitter’s tools are apolitical, and we enforce our rules without political bias. As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviours that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse. We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it. That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone.
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