As the date of the U.S. Presidential Election gets closer, social media platforms are taking various steps to stop the spread of misinformation and voter manipulation. In such a stance, Twitter has suspended several fake accounts claiming to be Black supporters of President Donald Trump. During the short run, those accounts raked in thousands of followers and could reach over 250,000 retweets combined before they were taken down.
Twitter found that there were over two dozen such accounts created since last week. One of the accounts @CopJrCliff that was created in 2017 managed to get over 24,000 followers in a week. The account claiming to be a Black police officer sported an image of Trump as a cover picture, urging to "Vote Republicans". His most popular tweet "YES IM BLACK AND IM VOTING FOR TRUMP!!! Can I get some retweets and follows Patriots? I follow all back. Love ya" got over liked 75,000 times.
According to Darren Linvill, a social media researcher at Clemson University, the network of fake accounts posted identical tweets and managed combined retweets of 265,000.
Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy told Business Insider that those accounts violated the platform's policy and thus they were taken down. "Our teams are working diligently to investigate this activity and will take action in line with the Twitter Rules if Tweets are found to be in violation. Presently, we've taken action on some of the Tweets and accounts you referenced for violations of our policies on platform manipulation and spam," he said.
As per recent polls, Trump doesn't garner much support amongst African-American voters, who mostly favor Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Only about 10 percent of Black voters support Trump. But for Trump, the percentage of African-American votes might decide his fate in the election. That's the reason, some researchers all alleging that the fake Twitter accounts might have been created by white Republicans in order to garner support from African-American voters.
As per a Washington Post report, many of the profile pictures of Black men were taken from random news reports or sources. For example, the profile picture of @CopJrCliff account was of a Black police officer that was taken from an article about Jakhary Jackson, a police officer in Portland, Oregon which saw persistent protests about racial discrimination. The account also claimed to be from Pennsylvania, a swing state which can decide Trump's fate in the election. But recently in an interview, he said that he didn't have a social media account.
They claimed to be members of pro-Trump groups that include police officers, veterans, businessmen and Christians. In one of the suspended Twitter accounts, in place of a profile picture, the words "black man photo" were put up.
Linvill said that such networks of fake accounts became active in the last two months, especially after the Republican National Convention. The RNC featured African-American voters supporting Trump to change the perception about his image among Black voters.
While the fake accounts have been taken down, researchers believe the damage is already done. "It's asymmetrical warfare. They don't have to last long. And they are so cheap to produce that you can get a lot of traction without a whole lot of work. Thank you, Twitter," said Linvill.