Twitter Trolls And 2020
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The 2020 campaign is just getting started, but digital disinformation efforts are already well underway. That's according to a new report from Politico, which found that Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Beto O'Rourke are already major targets of misinformation online. Natasha Korecki is a correspondent at Politico, and she joins us now to explain. Welcome.
NATASHA KORECKI: Thanks for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me - what is new here? How is this information being disseminated?
KORECKI: Sure. So what's new here is that it's an - if you look at it holistically of what's happening on all these different social media platforms, it's happening quickly; it's happening aggressively. What the Guardian.ai (ph) - the ones who did the research for us - found was that there was this core group of accounts that were driving a disproportionate percentage of the conversation. And they tracked these accounts and found that a lot of them were real people who really believed this. But there was a larger group of accounts around that that were amplifying it in what appeared to be a more coordinated way.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you give me an example of what it is that they're spreading?
KORECKI: Sure. So one of the most blatant, I think, happened with regard to Elizabeth Warren. And it was that, you know, over Instagram, she had livestreamed something from her kitchen. And someone posted something saying she had a blackface doll in her kitchen. And that appeared...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think I saw that actually.
KORECKI: Yeah. It appeared on one platform, and then somebody actually put money behind an ad on a different platform kind of furthering that. That was, like, blatant fake news. But the major underlying theme here is that it's playing to the most extreme parts of the conversation around all these candidates - you know, very sexist, racist, that type of things - and pushing those things out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do we know who is behind this? Are these state actors as we saw in the 2016 election, or are these American individuals?
KORECKI: Yeah. Well, so there's no clear evidence of who's involved. What they can say - and we talked to data scientists, campaign operatives, digital strategists. And a lot of them said they saw some signs of coordination, and that was mainly over Twitter. So there's some belief that there's some state actor involvement. However, it isn't isolated to that. One of the data scientists we talked to said - you know, they described this as an unholy alliance. And that's probably the best way to look at it is there is just a different hodgepodge of people who are pushing this for a variety of reasons, but it's getting amplified in a more coordinated way.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you're talking about specific accounts that are known quantities for spreading disinformation. Why aren't they just shut down?
KORECKI: Well, I think some of them have been shut down. But one core thing to remember here is that there are real people involved here, and this is what they believe. That is not what we're pointing to. What we're pointing to is what's being amplified. And it's a new strategy where, instead of creating tens of thousands of bots or - and so forth, the new strategy is taking real people, finding the message that you want and then amplifying that message. So if you're Twitter, you can't really shut down the real person who's the messenger. And these other people are much more difficult to detect.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you hearing from the candidates' campaigns? I mean, how are they protecting themselves or combating this, if at all?
KORECKI: Right. So there's not a whole lot that they're doing right now. To the extent that they have digital operations, a lot of those operations are focusing on things like fundraising, organizing events and getting people to their events, donating money, that type of thing. And it's meant that defense tactics have taken a backseat. What we're hearing from the campaigns is they think this issue is bigger than them. They think it's something that no one individual campaign can really combat, that it's something that maybe Democrats, maybe Republicans holistically have to come up with some kind of solution. And that - when you talk to, then, the digital world and the data scientists and stuff, they say that's very troubling because here we are. We're rushing toward 2020, and there's no real game plan from a lot of these campaigns.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Natasha Korecki of Politico, thank you so much.
KORECKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.