Brexit Party’s Twitter followers raise questions for researchers

Narjas Zatat@Narjas_Zatat
Sunday 19 May 2019 12:00
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Picture:(Getty)

Researchers have noticed that a portion of the Brexit Party’s Twitter followers aren’t behaving like they’re genuine people.

Nigel Farage’s party, which is predicted to do well in the upcoming European elections, has 136,000 Twitter followers, however two researchers for BuzzFeed News who studied the behaviour of some of those accounts suggest they might not be real.

One account that was set up in March tweeted 23,000 tweets in the first three months, with the vast majority of its tweets about Brexit. That’s approximately 255 tweets a day.

“This isn’t how we’d expect normal people with diverse interests to behave,” Professor Kalina Bontcheva at the University of Sheffield told Buzzfeed.

Andy Patel, researcher at a cybersecurity company called F-Secure added: “This campaign is utilising large numbers of low-quality accounts, including very new accounts and non-UK accounts, to amplify content from a handful of high-profile pro-Leave Twitter personalities.”

BuzzFeed went on to provide the researchers 30 Twitter accounts following the Brexit Party for analysis, and less than 24 hours later, seven of those accounts had been suspended for breach of policy.

The researchers went on to outline the ways in which many of the accounts following the Brexit Party – some seven per cent of such Twitter users – exhibit certain red flags.

  • A high percentage of new followers demonstrate “inorganic activity” likely to be the work of bots.
  • Tweeting hundreds of times a day in quick succession about the same topic, in this case Brexit, is also strange.
  • Tweeting at odd times of the day, such as one account which tweeted 144 times between 1am and 4am, is also odd behaviour for a Twitter account.

The findings come in light of a pandemic of “fake news” and social media manipulation occurring around elections and referendums.

Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm is being investigated after it had improperly obtained the Facebook data of 87 million people and used it to build tools that helped president Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Federal prosecutors are conducting criminal investigations into data deals Facebook struck with companies, tech companies, including Apple and Sony. The Mueller report, a recent investigation into Russian collusion into the US presidential elections concluded that it could neither exonerate or completely accuse Trump of obstruction of justice or Russian collusion.

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