A group of far-right trolls had their plans exposed after they accidentally invited a reporter to their private Discord channel, according to a new NBC report. In the channel, the trolls discussed how to circumvent Twitter’s efforts to prevent the spread of misinformation on the platform aimed at lowering Democratic turnout this election cycle. The report found that though Twitter sometimes succeeded in vanquishing their plans, the trolls continue to adapt, and many of their strategies are working.
One user in the Discord chat lamented being banned by Twitter after he repeatedly tweeted the incorrect date for election day.
“Were they really banning people for saying [vote on] November 7? Lol, whoops,” one user, who according to NBC, used a racist joke about Native Americans as their username, wrote. “Maybe that’s what got me shadowbanned.”
After the scrutiny they’ve faced since their handling of the 2016 election, Twitter and other social platforms have enhanced their misinformation-fighting tools. Last week, Twitter announced that they’d banned 10,000 accounts that were found to be discouraging voting in the upcoming election, many posing as Democrats. Those accounts were largely found through an algorithm.
Twitter says they are working on further strategies to reign in misinformation.
A spokesperson for Twitter pointed NBC News to a series of company blog posts from last month describing updates about rules surrounding fake accounts on Twitter, including plans to ban the “use of stock or stolen avatar photos” and the “use of intentionally misleading profile information.”
“As platform manipulation tactics continue to evolve, we are updating and expanding our rules to better reflect how we identify fake accounts, and what types of inauthentic activity violate our guidelines,” Del Harvey, vice president for trust and safety at Twitter, and Yoel Roth, head of site integrity, wrote in a blog post. “We now may remove fake accounts engaged in a variety of emergent, malicious behaviors.”
But trolls are aware of these efforts, and are already finding ways around them, NBC found.
NBC News witnessed trolls developing new strategies on the fly to circumvent the bans. Several were successful in creating unique identities that appeared to be middle-aged women who posted anti-Trump rhetoric as part of a long-term effort to build up followings that could later be used to seed disinformation to hundreds or thousands of followers.
One troll who stole a woman’s identity came up with a plan to skirt reverse image search programs that would show users the real identity of the woman in its stolen profile picture.
“If you want a Twitter pic that is a completely unique photo and not an actual person, use the Snapchat filter where you can layer another face,” said one user. “It will be a completely unique face.”
Experts say that these kinds of coordinated attacks are becoming increasingly common.
“That’s where disinformation is thriving now, where there’s no content moderation and no ability to search or see what’s trending,” Nina Jankowicz, an expert in disinformation at Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute told NBC. “It’s a real problem.”