Twitter has deleted some 20,000 fake accounts linked to the governments of a handful of countries and accused of deliberately attempting to undermine public conversation.
Serbia had by far the most amount of accounts removed- some 8000, almost half of the total. Other countries that are accused of running disinformation campaigns on the platform include Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.
Toward the end of last year, we identified clusters of accounts engaged in inauthentic coordinated activity which led to the removal of 8,558 accounts working to promote Serbia’s ruling party and its leader.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) April 2, 2020
Twitter stated that towards the end of 2019, they identified clusters of accounts engaged in inauthentic coordinated activity working to promote the Serbian ruling party and its leader Aleksandar Vucic. A total of 8558 accounts were removed.
The platform stated that “these behaviors are in violation of our policies and are a targeted attempt to undermine the public conversation.”
The Serbian network was responsible for some 43 million tweets that steadily worked to legitimate Vucic’s policies and undercut public support for his opponents. The tweets aimed to “cheerlead” for Vucic and his party as well as boosting the popularity and visibility of propaganda.
Accounts would reply to Vucic and his party’s tweets with positive messages and to give support during the ongoing political unrest.
According to research conducted by Stanford Internet Observatory, some of the accounts were active as early as 2009, but the network began to ramp up in mid 2018, right before the “1 of 5 million” anti-government protests began.
Vucic received 6.1 million mentions, 1.7 million retweets and 133,000 replies. The official SNS Twitter account got 5.9 million mentions, 4.5 million retweets and over 111,331 replies. Other popular accounts included the SNS-aligned Informer Novine, Milenko Jovano the Vice President of SNS, Marko Djuric the Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Tanjug News, the Mayor of Novi Sad and the Government of Serbia in Kosovo and Metohija.
This shows that not only were fake twitter profiles seeking to influence public opinion in Serbia, but they were targeting Kosovo as well.
Albania did not appear in the data sets provided from Twitter but it is well known that the Albanian government use similar tactics.
Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj has some 131,439 fake Twitter followers as confirmed by several independent follower checkers. This figure suggests that he has more fake followers than most accounts, with 78.3% of his followers being fake, compared with a median of 32%. This tool defines fake as “spam, bots, or propaganda”.
Prime Minister Edi Rama has a similar figure of fakes with 75.8% of followers being deemed as fake.
Prior to the 2019 local elections in Albania, hundreds if not thousands of fake Facebook pages sprung up posting, commenting, and reposting propaganda about Rama and Veliaj. These pages would also attack those posting critical content or comments.
An investigation conducted by Exit found that these pages were set up from a handful of main profiles and used fake names and pictures. Furthermore they were all set up around the same time.
Another investigation by Exit found that employees of state institutions were told to repost government propaganda and to comment messages of support on social media, in favour of the Socialist Party. Those that did not were in fear of losing their jobs. Others were forced to attend Socialist Party rallies even though they were members of the opposition parties.