Earlier this week one of my LinkedIn connections interacted with a post from “The Nashville Tea Party” — a page reflecting having more than 11 thousand Followers.
Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Research Project defines computational propaganda as the “use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks.”
As noted in their working paper, “the most powerful forms of computational propaganda involve both algorithmic distribution and human curation — bots and trolls working together” — in other words, bots comprise a subset of computational propaganda.
Specific to Twitter it’s important to emphasize that Twitter’s core problem is not bots, i.e. not fully automated accounts.
A recent LinkedIn post from “The Nashville Tea Party” depicts Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity as being “in charge of fact-checking Trump:”
CNN disinformation, politics, and technology reporter, Donie O’Sullivan, notes that I was a vocal critic of Yoel Roth, often tagging him in tweets, in fact, prior to Twitter suspending my account nearly a year ago:
President Trump recently tagged Roth in a tweet that resulted in Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity being swarmed by thousands of inauthentic accounts:
The day prior to Trump’s tweet, Kellyanne Conway accurately predicts that Roth “is about to get a lot more followers” during Fox & Friends:
The day prior to Conway’s mention of Roth during Fox & Friends, The New York Post’s Jon Levine shared a collection of Roth’s prior tweets, where among other things, Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity refers to President Trump as a “racist tangerine” and alleges there are “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.”
Kirstie Alley, who moved to Los Angeles prior to her acting career taking off to pursue Scientology and work as an interior designer, even got around to dunking on Roth:
The same morning that Conway mentioned Roth on Fox & Friends, Dan “Own the Libs” Bongino, linked to a tweet from One America News host Liz Wheeler:
When Twitter’s Own Are Targeted
Roth wasn’t the only Twitter employee recently swarmed by inauthentic accounts (Protocol reported last week that Roth has “faced an explosion of death threats” from Trump supporters attacking him).
Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, had his mentions flooded by inauthentic accounts pushing the #AyatollahJack hashtag in late May:
I was swarmed by the same accounts engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior targeting Dorsey for highlighting how state-sponsored Twitter accounts are pushing for war with Iran:
While I have been critical of Roth’s work as it relates to mitigating against platform manipulation/information operations, I do not condone the targeted harassment he continues to endure.
Roth’s role at Twitter has nothing to do with fact-checking.
Despite pushing such an incorrect/dishonest narrative, the pro-MAGA artificial amplification network succeeded in painting Roth as Twitter’s omnipotent Social Justice Warrior — and one with access to the kill (censorship) switch.
Narrative laundering, according to Stanford’s Internet Observatory Cyber Policy Center, is a disinformation tactic that involves “moving a certain narrative from its state-run origins to the wider media ecosystem through the use of aligned publications, “useful idiots,” and, perhaps, witting participants.”
It took less than 48 hours for this false narrative to reach President Trump’s desk.
The Nashville Tea Party
Less than 24 hours ago “The Nashville Tea Party” LinkedIn page complained that their posts “have been blocked for about two weeks.”
Considering I started following the page several days back and have been seeing their frequent posts, it seems unlikely that their posts have been blocked for as long as they claim.
It is possible, however, that LinkedIn took action on the account at some point— again, it engages in computational propaganda — later opting to reinstate the page after restricting it for some period of time.
While the page’s posts appeared in my timeline over the past several days, the page itself returned an error when selected until a few hours ago:
It appears the “The Nashville Tea Party” page feeds into other patriotic LinkedIn pages (including Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. and Republican National Committee — according to LinkedIn’s “Similar pages” algorithm, at least):
More specifically, the accounts being referenced function to create the illusion that the Tea Party’s base is larger, wider reaching, and more vocal than reality reflects. The network of accounts engages in coordinated inauthentic behavior and is connected to the official Twitter account of the Tea Party, @TeaPartyExpress:
According to Wikipedia, astroturfing is the “practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.”
National Tea Party movement co-founder Michael Johns, whose Twitter account (@michaeljohns) is verified and Following more than 145 thousand accounts, plays a central role in the Tea Party’s well-oiled Twitter propaganda machine:
When confronted via Twitter DM re: his thoughts on social media manipulation, Johns stated he was against it.
The same content is cross-posted across the LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook accounts of Nashville Tea Party (note the Facebook page reflects having more than 180 thousand likes!):
Accountability Musical Chairs
Dorsey committed to holding Twitter “publicly accountable towards progress” in March 2018:
Twitter’s Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead, Vijaya Gadde, during an interview with Bloomberg in January 2020, seems to assume some level of ownership/accountability, stating “[Jack] rarely weighs in on an individual enforcement decision.. I usually go to him and say, ‘this is what’s going to happen.’”
More recently, however, Gadde seems to deflect that same level of individual ownership/accountability:
With Gadde downplaying Dorsey’s individual role/accountability as it relates to Twitter’s policies and enforcement actions, and now doing the same with respect to her own individual role/accountability in that regard, *someone* absolutely needs to be held accountable for Twitter’s devolution into such a toxic platform — one that continues to erode democracies across the world.
Social Forensics maps and monitors social connections and activity.
We create purposefully designed tools to manage social data analytics needs across various industries. Our focus is audience segmentation and identifying coordinated inauthentic behavior across social media platforms.
Geoff Golberg is an NYC-based researcher (and entrepreneur) who is fascinated by graph visualization/network analysis — more specifically, when applied to social networks and blockchain activity. His experience spans structured finance, ad tech, and digital marketing/customer acquisition, both at startups and public companies.
Geoff is the Founder/CEO/Janitor of Social Forensics.