In June 2019, we reported on a Twitter account (@violeuscolor) that housed over 60,000 bots.
Many of those 61,063 accounts had English names and Russian profile descriptions–and a stunningly obvious pattern. First names, last names, and even pictures were repeated, algorithmically, across the accounts.
In addition to the obvious patterns of these Russian-English Twitter bots, most of the accounts had never tweeted, and all of them had lain dormant for many years.
We informed Twitter of the accounts and reported them, hoping Twitter would suspend such obvious fakes.
As of December 5, 2019, all of the Russian-English bot accounts were still on the platform. (Though, a few days later, about 20,000 of these accounts disappeared–but it wasn’t Twitter that shut them down. Please see the update below.)
And, because Twitter had done nothing with the reported accounts, it had also done nothing to track down the network that shares these tens of thousands of Russian-English bots. So, we did.
The Russian-English Twitter Bot Network
Meet some of the accounts housing the same tens of thousands of Russian-English Twitter bots housed by @violeuscolor.
To find the Russian-English bots, scroll down the “cover” layer of random (mostly fake) followers in these accounts. You’ll know you’ve found them when you hit endless rows of Russian-English bots.
But the bot network doesn’t stop with these accounts.
The Russian-English Bot Network Pattern
One of the patterns we’ve seen with many bot networks is a separation of accounts by gender-affiliated names when they are created. You may have noticed that @violeuscolor and the other accounts posted above house mostly “female” named bots.
So, what about “male” named bots? Yes, this network has accounts that house those too.
Admittedly, bot networks are much harder to “see” when they are spread across millions of other accounts. But if we can find them with nothing more than our eyes and a bit of time, Twitter has no excuse.
Twitter has lauded its fancy algorithms, overtly claiming that the platform catches most of the fakes as they are created. Belying these claims, however, Twitter has not removed the Russian-English bots–even after being notified about them.
This is not likely, however, to surprise anyone who spends even an average amount of time on the Twitter.
It’s Not Just Russian-English Bots: Twitter’s Bot Problem is Mammoth
The @violeuscolor Russian-English bot network is just a tiny sample from a platform that is flooded with fake accounts. To highlight the scope of Twitter’s bot problem, here are just a few types of bots on which we’ve published (and reported to Twitter):
We’ve even shown, among other things: how Twitter’s algorithms help push bots into real accounts; how fake accounts work in concert across platforms; and how bots can lock their accounts and quick-change their profiles to help them avoid detection.
And still, these examples represent a mere fraction of the types of bots and other fake accounts that exist on Twitter.
The Change Must Be Systemic
Make no mistake. No individual or organization could report the hundreds of millions of insidious fake accounts on Twitter. Even if they could, Twitter has repeatedly proven that it wouldn’t matter.
The only option left for Twitter is a full, systemic overhaul of its business model and operating procedures. Given Twitter’s continued negligence, it strongly appears that government intervention may be the only way to achieve that systemic change.
As mentioned above, on December 5, 2019 the Russian-English bots were still on the platform (six months after our initial publication about the @violeuscolor account). So, Unhackthevote @mikefarb1 tweeted about the account for a second time.
At that time, we started writing this article about the Russian-English bot network. Just five days later, on December 10, we saw that the @violeuscolor account had started losing followers.
The accounts it had lost were not suspended, however. Rather, the Russian-English bot host had shut down over 20,000 of their bots. Below is a sample of what we saw. The yellow-highlighted accounts have disappeared from the platform.
And, further verifying their connection, @violeuscolor’s fellow Russian-English bot distributors lost a similar number of followers in the same time-frame.
It strikes us that the Russian bot host shut down a large number of their bot accounts before Twitter suspended them. And the fact that the accounts were shut down rather than suspended leaves us with another quandary: a disabled account can be reactivated within 30 days with just one click. And, who knows where they’ll show up next.
This update brings us straight back to our initial conclusion: Given Twitter’s continued negligence, it strongly appears that government intervention may be the only way to achieve that systemic change.
Written by Virginia Murr
For more information on how to spot a Twitter bot, please visit our Bot Tutorial.