Bots flood Twitter with anti-opposition messages

KUALA LUMPUR • Just weeks before Malaysia goes to the polls, automated accounts known as bots are flooding Twitter with tens of thousands of pro-government and anti-opposition messages, according to a review by Reuters and a US digital media research institute.

Asked about the matter, San Francisco-based Twitter said it was focused on identifying and suspending accounts that violate its spam policies.

"We continue to fight hard to tackle any malicious automation on our platform as well as spam accounts," it said, without giving specific details.

A source close to the matter said the company had suspended 500 accounts involved in the Malaysian election messages since they involved spam or malicious automation.

Twitter bots, accounts which can post, like or resend tweets automatically, are not illegal in Malaysia and seem to be having minimal impact on its election campaign. But they have come under global scrutiny amid probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 United States elections using social media platforms.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan, the information technology bureau chairman of Prime Minister Najib Razak's party Umno, said he did not know who was behind the bot activity and that it was not his team.

The government's communications and multimedia minister Salleh Said Keruak did not respond to messages seeking comment.

A researcher at the Digital Forensic Research (DFR) Lab of the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank said over 17,000 bots tweeted content related to the Malaysian election over the last week.

The tweets included visuals illustrating Malaysian government policies and questioning the opposition's promises.

Reuters was unable to establish where the tweets originated or which firm or individual may be behind the bot accounts.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 22, 2018, with the headline 'Bots flood Twitter with anti-opposition messages'. Print Edition | Subscribe