Christopher Bouzy, the founder of bot tracking platform Bot Sentinel, conducted a Twitter analysis for Business Insider and found bots and trolls are using hashtags like #ReOpenNC, #ReopenAmericaNow, #StopTheMadness, #ENDTHESHUTDOWN, and #OperationGridlock to spread disinformation. According to Bouzy, the bots and trolls are spreading conspiracy theories about Democrats wanting to hurt the economy to make Trump look bad, Democrats trying to take away people’s civil liberties, and Democrats trying to prevent people from voting. The accounts are also using false data to underplay the threat of the coronavirus.
“Inauthentic accounts are amplifying disinformation and inaccurate statistics and sharing false information as a reason to reopen the country,” Bouzy says. “Many of these accounts are also spreading bizarre conspiracy theories about Democrats using COVID-19 as a way to take away American freedoms and prevent Americans from voting.”
“Inauthentic accounts are downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19, and they sharing inaccurate information about the mortality rate of the virus. The problem is significant because many of these inauthentic accounts are retweeted by other larger accounts, which increases their reach and visibility.”
According to the New York Times, Chinese operatives spread claims on social media in mid-March that the Trump administration was going to lock down the entire country and enforce this lockdown with soldiers on the streets. The White House’s National Security Council later tweeted that these claims were false. That was just some of the disinformation that’s been spread on social media by inauthentic sources.
Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of the fact-checking website Truth or Fiction and former managing editor of Snopes, tells Business Insider that the media has been struggling with its coverage of the protests, which she says are “completely inauthentic and coordinated.”
“Journalists are largely missing that fact in their bids to find ‘other sides to the story,'” Binkowski says.
She believes that the disinformation is being spread by trolls and bots but also by “useful idiots.”
“Empowering violent extremists is a very old method for collapsing unstable states,” Binkowski says. “This is the end result of weaponized disinformation — it’s doing its job. It would have been the virus or it would have been something like a fire, or a hurricane, or an earthquake. But disinformation purveyors are nothing if not opportunistic.”