Israeli tech sleuths uncover large pro-Trump bot network

Over the past 11 months, someone created thousands of fake, automated Twitter accounts — perhaps hundreds of thousands of them — to offer a stream of praise for Donald Trump, an Israeli tech firm has found.

The new pro-Trump network is actually three different networks of Twitter accounts, all created in huge batches in April, October and November 2022. In all, researchers believe hundreds of thousands of accounts could be involved.

The sprawling bot network was uncovered by researchers at Cyabra, an Israeli tech firm. While the identify of those behind the network of fake accounts is unknown, Cyabra’s analysts determined that it was likely created within the US.

Besides posting adoring words about the former president, the fake accounts ridiculed Trump’s critics from both parties and attacked Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador who is challenging her onetime boss for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

When it came to Ron DeSantis, the bots aggressively suggested that the Florida governor couldn’t beat Trump, but would be a great running mate.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with people after speaking at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, November 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“One account will say, ‘Biden is trying to take our guns; Trump was the best,’ and another will say, ‘Jan. 6 was a lie and Trump was innocent,'” says Jules Gross, the Cyabra engineer who first discovered the network. “Those voices are not people. For the sake of democracy I want people to know this is happening.”

The triple network was discovered after Gross analyzed Tweets about different national political figures and noticed that many of the accounts posting the content were created on the same day. Most of the accounts remain active, though they have relatively modest numbers of followers.

The network helped popularize a call for DeSantis to join Trump as his vice presidential running mate — an outcome that would serve Trump well and allow him to avoid a potentially bitter matchup if DeSantis enters the race.

The same network of accounts shared overwhelmingly positive content about Trump and contributed to an overall false picture of his support online, researchers found.

“Our understanding of what is mainstream Republican sentiment for 2024 is being manipulated by the prevalence of bots online,” the Cyabra researchers concluded.

A message left with a spokesman for Trump’s campaign was not immediately returned.

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