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Twitter Says No Evidence Of 'Extensive Politicised Bots' In Ireland Around Covid-19

Twitter Says No Evidence Of 'Extensive Politicised Bots' In Ireland Around Covid-19

The battle against coronavirus is also a battle of information. The government and HSE have repeatedly urged citizens to only consume and circulate information pertaining to the virus that comes from respected sources. Regardless, social media remains a hive of rumour and hearsay. Twitter is a great place for theories and there has been huge interest in the theory that the government has been using Twitter bots to create the perception of good will from the greater public.

The suspicion that the government would be open to the use of bots originates from claims in a Leo Vadarkar biography by Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor that the Taoiseach would be open to creating fake social media accounts to support. The book claims:

"At one point, Varadkar floated the idea to one TD of creating anonymous accounts to make positive comments under online stories on popular news websites. It's unclear how far the proposal was pushed."

Since the onset of the crisis, there has been anecdotal evidence in a rise of dodgy-looking accounts praising the government's performance. The number of positive replies to this tweet from Simon Harris from accounts that lack profile photos and have accounts with a string of numbers on the end of them raised eyebrows amongst Ireland's internet sleuthing community.

Twitter officially replied to these claims yesterday evening. It said its teams 'did not see evidence of extensive politicised bots amplifying narratives on the pandemic conversation in Ireland'.

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If you are still skeptical, data scientist Nathan Cunningham also published extensive research yesterday on the same subject. He found that the evidence of a Fine Gael bot army 'was not particularly compelling'.

Nathan writes:

So, don’t just offhandedly dismiss any positive comments under tweets from Fine Gael. Is it possible that they have bots making positive comments under their tweets? Absolutely. However, based on the bot criteria people are working with at the minute, the evidence is not particularly compelling. It’s much more probable that there’s been a surge of Twitter accounts from older demographics, who have traditionally supported Fine Gael. That’s not to mention younger people. While I doubt many have forgiven Fine Gael for the many issues we had coming into this crisis, I think many agree that, given the enormity of the task at hand, they’re not doing a bad job.

Donny Mahoney
Article written by
Donny Mahoney is one of the founders of Balls.ie

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