Twitter reduction in employees means activation of troll accounts

19. 04. 2023 | Kristýna Bezděková

Elon Musk has shut down the team that was controlling content and blocking troll activity. Now accounts from Russia and China have been given the green light.

The team worked to combat “information operations,” coordinated campaigns by countries like Russia, China and Iran to influence public opinion and disrupt democracy. But experts and former employees say most of these specialists have resigned or been fired, leaving the platform vulnerable to foreign manipulation. The BBC spoke to several of them. They asked to remain anonymous, citing confidentiality agreements and threats they received online.

“An entire human layer has been eliminated. All Twitter has left are automated detection systems,” said one former senior executive.

Organised groups of people who post coordinated messages are called “troll farms”. The term was first used by Russian reporters who exposed one of the roughly 300 paid employees run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary group Wagner. Since then, troll farms influencing elections and public opinion have been exposed in many countries, from Poland and Turkey to Brazil and Mexico. They have also been used as a propaganda tool in ethnic conflicts and wars.

Now a new group of Russian trolls is active on Twitter. It supports Putin’s war in Ukraine, ridicules Kiev and the West, and attacks independent Russian-language publications, including the BBC’s Russian service. Many of these troll accounts have been suspended, but dozens are still active.

The Clemson University team monitors pro-Chinese accounts that target users in both Chinese and English and report on topics of importance to the Chinese government. With only a skeleton team left on Twitter, former employees say they don’t have the resources to quickly detect, attribute and remove this foreign propaganda.

Experts have long warned of the dangers of foreign influence on social media.

Twitter has hired people with backgrounds in cybersecurity, journalism, government agencies and NGOs who speak a range of languages, including Russian, Farsi, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish and Portuguese.

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Author of this article

Kristýna Bezděková

Kristýna is a student of marketing and communication in an undergraduate program. She writes and translates content into the Czech language


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