Twitter Has an Astroturfing Tool and They Won't Tell Us Who's Using It

Good Libby Watson piece on how easy it is to create the appearance of a grassroots movement on Twitter, even where none exists. This is exactly the sort of thing we can expect foreign actors to exploit later this year:

Astroturfing is easier now than ever before, and also easier than ever to conceal. It’s very easy to set up a website, a Facebook page, or just a Twitter account, and pose as a Real Organization that does the things legitimate public policy organizations do: getting quoted in the news, releasing reports, generally doing actual activities to study public policy (even if those organizations are themselves often corrupt).
It also turns out to be even easier than I thought to do this on Twitter. Over the past year or so, Twitter users have noticed at least two bizarre ad campaigns that don’t link to a real Twitter account, or have any presence on the web at all: Heartland Priorities and the Middle America Project. Using a Twitter Ads feature that allows advertisers to create promoted tweets that aren’t linked to any permanent profile, these fake organizations are running ads on a number of important public policy issues. Thanks to Twitter’s complete lack of transparency (and refusal to comment for this story), we have no idea who they are.


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