Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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According to Global Witness, leading up to the general election in the UK, bot-like social media accounts have spewed an incredible amount of disinformation and hate. The watchdog discovered that X now known as Twitter has had about 60,000 messages from alleged bots, a majority of them conspiracy theories and violent hate speech; Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Homophobia, and Transphobia. These posts have been seen by around one hundred fifty million individuals.

Global Witness asserts that these accounts could have had “an oversized influence” because they were so active even though many of their posts were admiring Russian President Vladimir Putin. The use of bot profiles which are machines pretending to be humans is raising questions on democracy’s strength across the globe particularly in this era of cyber technology and artificial intelligence advancement.

Russia among other hostile actors is seeking to influence Britain’s democratic process according to Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden. This was after it emerged that Facebook pages with similar pro-Kremlin narratives were spreading widely.

Ava Lee who is the campaign leader at Global Witness stressed how vital it is for social media platforms to prioritize democracies over profit by “clean up their platforms and put our democracies before profit.” She noted that while political discussions online are often toxic, people generally believe they are engaging with genuine opinions from real individuals. Nevertheless, when these conversations are manipulated through employing bots, democracy is put at risk.

By searching hashtags or posts associated with climate change or migration – two major themes used by misinformation campaigns – Global Witness identified its suspects. From the day the UK election date was announced on May 22nd onwards, there were more than ten profiles some posting scores or hundreds daily.

Eight out of these accounts blatantly expressed their preference for certain political parties either through using party logos as their profile pictures or frequently reposting content related to the same. The extremes of the material shared notwithstanding, there was no indication that any UK political party had employed or endorsed these bots.

Meanwhile, Global Witness discovered that most of the posts on those accounts were very extreme with others denying climate change, claiming vaccines have caused a “genocide” and spreading various forms of hate speech. One profile has since been deleted but there were still nine profiles active as of when Global Witness published its findings.

The organization urged X to investigate these accounts which are likely breaching its policies, and do more to safeguard democratic debate from manipulation. Media companies need to put democratic integrity ahead of profit according to the organization.

There was no response from X concerning this matter.

Democratic elections must be guarded against digital manipulation especially as Brexit approaches for democracy to remain strong in this country.

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