It’s a simple question, but before we get to the (likely) simple answer, let’s review why their decision to not ban bots is so detrimental to our democracy.
First, we saw it throughout 2016. Then we saw it all through 2017. And now we’re witnessing it in real-time in 2018. Russian bots and their troll farms help distort the news and frame narratives, online and in mainstream outlets. When people say, “Russia meddled in the 2016 elections”, they’re doing a disservice to the fact that Russia is still meddling in our politics to this very day. Let’s look at the plethora of evidence which show this to be true.
First, Russian Bots actively engaged in the conversation about NFL players protesting the national anthem in 2017. Which side were they on? You guessed it, Donald Trump’s. They actively pushed trends related to #BoycottNFL and #TakeAKnee, and literally spread propaganda in the form of doctored images. It’s not rocket science folks, Russia is on Trump’s side and they’re all for sowing discord in the United States.
This photoshopped image of Seattle Seahawks player, Michael Bennett, burning an American flag in a locker room is a perfect example. This picture went viral because apparently Americans are so gullible that they would believe NFL players burn American flags after their games with head coach Pete Carroll smiling in attendance.
Next, You may have missed this story during the wild and whacky Doug Jones and Alabama race, but almost 20,000 Russian Bots followed Roy Moore overnight and began to amplify his message on Twitter. And this reporting wasn’t done by a left-wing blog; it was reported in the Washington Examiner, a website known for their right-wing commentary. Of course, this piece says “Roy Moore has no idea why this happened”, but the fact remains that his audience nearly doubled overnight thanks to a Russian troll farm.
Now, fast-forward to 2018: We’re in the midst of a total and complete breakdown of our institutions, led largely by Rep. Devin Nunes who drafted a memo designed to misinform and mislead the American public (with Paul Ryan’s support). Donald Trump is attacking his own FBI and DOJ, and using his megaphone on Twitter to do so.
Nothing about this story is normal, and of course, the Nunes Memo received an abnormal amount of attention both online and in mainstream outlets. The trend #ReleaseTheMemo exploded in what seemed to be a synchronized fashion, and it was pushed by Donald Trump Jr., all the Right-Wing favorites, and of course, Russian bots.
According to the Alliance For Securing Democracy, over 600 accounts with ties to the Kremlin aggressively pushed this hashtag, and successfully helped frame the narrative for days to come.
NEW: Sen. Feinstein, Rep. Schiff urge Facebook and Twitter to investigate involvement of Russian bots in pushing “Release the Memo” campaign: “If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors.” pic.twitter.com/SkAci5NefK
— ABC News (@ABC) January 23, 2018
And this leads us to where we are today: Knowing we are under-attack, powerless in our defense, and at the whim of billionaire tech CEOs who claim to want to do the right thing, but just can’t quite seem to crack the code on how to actually do the right thing.
So, let’s revisit our simple question from above: why won’t Twitter ban the bots? Could it be that Russian oligarchs have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Twitter? Or, could it just be a more simple explanation, that Twitter needs these bots to remain attractive with Daily Active Users in the eyes of Wall Street?
Regardless of the reasoning behind the inaction, surely Jack Dorsey and the folks leading Twitter realize the stakes are enormously high. In no hyperbolic terms, the American public is regularly under cyberattack and the attackers are using Twitter as the battlefield. Jack and Twitter leadership no longer have the luxury of feigning ignorance. All of this is public knowledge. And their decision to not ban bots or to “just stay on the sidelines” is a decision in and of itself.
Jack and Twitter leadership – every day that you don’t ban bots and reform your platform is another day you are complicit in an ongoing cyberattack against the United States of America. Full stop. And pretty soon, you will have far bigger problems than negative PR.
So, stand up for the country in which you make a profit. Stand up for the future of our democracy. Stand up because it’s the right thing to do. Just ban the bots, already.