Fake Accounts Proliferating On X, Study Warns

Elon Musk’s X (formerly known as Twitter) is once again at the centre of concerns about misinformation and fake news on the platform.

Reuters reported that a social media analysis company has exclusively shared with it a new report ahead of its release on Friday – a report that found fake accounts posting about the upcoming US presidential election are proliferating on X.

This is not the first time that allegations that Elon Musk’s X is hosting disinformation and fake news. In December, European Commission launched its first investigation under new digital content rules into an alleged failure by X to fight against disinformation and content manipulation.

Fake accounts

The European Union has also previously warned tech firms to do more to combat Russian disinformation campaigns ahead of elections in Europe.

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova singled out Elon Musk’s Twitter/X – specifically listed it as being the largest spreader of Russian lies and propaganda, out of all large social media platforms.

The platform was also accused last year disabling a feature that let users report misinformation about elections.

Now Reuters citing a report from Israeli tech company Cyabra, reported that it had used machine learning to identify fake accounts, and it found that 15 percent of X accounts praising former President Donald Trump and criticising President Joe Biden are fake.

The report also reportedly found that 7 percent of accounts praising President Biden (a Democrat), and criticising Trump (a Republican) are also fake.

Cyabra’s study is reportedly based on a review of posts on the X platform over two months beginning 1 March. The review included analysing popular hashtags and determining sentiment in terms of whether posts are positive, negative or neutral.

The analysis shows that newly detected fake accounts had increased up to tenfold during March and April, Reuters noted.

The report cited 12,391 inauthentic pro-Trump profiles out of 94,363 total and 803 inauthentic pro-Biden profiles out of 10,065 total.

Nefarious objectives

A spokesperson for X did not respond to a request for comment about the fake accounts, nor did representatives from the White House and Trump campaign, Reuters reported.

The fake accounts praising Trump this cycle are part of a co-ordinated campaign to sway public opinion and influence online discussions, Cyabra reportedly said.

The report did not identify the individuals or groups behind the campaign.

Cyabra said it made that determination based on evidence including the use of identical hashtags and the fact that fake accounts published posts and comments at the same time. The report found that the fake pro-Trump accounts pushed two main messages: “Vote for Trump” and “Biden is the worst president the US has ever had.”

“The level of co-ordination suggests that there is a nefarious objective and that there is a whole operation in order to change people’s opinion,” said Cyabra’s vice president, Rafi Mendelsohn was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The fake accounts backing Biden are not part of a coordinated campaign, the report said, as the hallmarks of a coordinated campaign – such as fake accounts posting at the same time – were not identified.

Free speech

Elon Musk has tended to adopt a hand off approach to content moderation, defaulting to Musk’s ‘free speech’ preference first and foremost.

For example Elon Musk withdrew Twitter from the EU’s voluntary code of practice in May 2023.

Industry commissioner Thierry Breton however warned at the time that Twitter’s legal obligations on disinformation remained.

The European Commission had in February 2023 slammed Twitter’s compliance with the code, saying its efforts were falling short of those of its peers.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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