In a bid to curb the use of millions of bots and fake profiles on its platform that seek to control or influence public opinion ahead of elections in the U.S. and in Europe, Twitter has introduced a slew of changes in its policies to protect the integrity of elections as well as to improve the health of the public conversation.
In a blog post published Monday, the social media giant, which had 335 million monthly active users in Q2 2018, said that it is introducing several changes in the way it identifies fake accounts, checks the distribution of hacked material, and prevents the distribution of false and misleading election-related content.
The announcement from Twitter comes a month ahead of the U.S. mid-term election which is scheduled to take place on 6th November. Considering that there is a real possibility of malicious actors upping their game in the days ahead to influence public opinion and to spread fake news and misleading content to the voting populace, Twitter hopes that its updated policies will go a long way in preserving the integrity of the election process.
"We continue to enforce our rules against intentionally misleading election-related content. In August, we removed approximately 50 accounts misrepresenting themselves as members of various state Republican parties. We have also taken action on Tweets sharing media regarding elections and political issues with misleading or incorrect party affiliation information. We continue to partner closely with the RNC, DNC, and state election institutions to improve how we handle these issues," wrote Yoel Roth, Head of Site Integrity at Twitter.
"Our automated detections continue to identify and challenge millions of potentially spammy and automated accounts per week. In the first half of September, we challenged an average of 9.4 million accounts each week.
"As a result of our proactive detections and enforcements, we have continued to see a decline in the average number of spam-related reports we receive from users each day — from an average of approximately 17,000 per day in May, to approximately 16,000 per day in September," he added.
Twitter fights back against fake news and spam accounts
In order to curb the menace of fake accounts which often appear to be genuine because of the use of pictures of real people and real designations, Roth said that Twitter will henceforth block accounts that use stock or stolen avatar photos, use stolen or copied profile bios, and use intentionally misleading profile information, including profile location.
Taking note of the fact that malicious actors quickly set up new accounts as soon as their existing ones are blocked, Roth said that Twitter will strengthen its enforcement rules to block accounts that "deliberately mimic or are intended to replace accounts we have previously suspended for violating our rules".
Also, considering that malicious actors may use stolen trade secrets or privileged information of companies or people to malign their reputation in public, Roth said that Twitter would actively discourage and block the distribution of hacked material that contains private information or trade secrets, or could put people in harm’s way.
At the same time, Twitter will also take action against accounts that will claim credit for hacks or that will offer bounties to the public in exchange for hacking into firms or profiles of specific people.
Spammy and malicious apps could face the boot
Extending its new enforcement policies to cover spammy and malicious apps, Roth said Twitter will proactively identify and remove malicious applications to make it more difficult for these apps to operate in the first place. Since July, the platform suspended over 30,000 malicious applications every month after introducing a new registration process for app developers.
"This is undoubtedly a positive step for Twitter. As distrust of traditional media continues to grow, and individuals begin to view social media as a trusted, respected news source, the onus remains on these companies to ensure that they function as just that," said Corin Imai, senior product manager at DomainTools.
"While it’s good to see that they investigate 9 million accounts a month, it looks like this will be the first of many steps that Twitter takes to ensure their consumers have relevant and honest information and they are not a vehicle for propaganda.
"Security analysts and researches have been working hard on the threat intelligence side to establish background connections between the apps spreading the kind of disinformation that can affect election, and attributing this blame to the relevant threat actors. Twitter is taking a stand and showing consumers that our democratic process is too important to allow misinformation to become propaganda," he added.
Fake news, data privacy and General Elections
Russian hackers behind fake news over the UK's vaccination programmes