Twitter Bots Drown OuT Russian Protestors

by Translation Guy on January 9, 2012
16 comments

#триумфальная (Triumfalnaya) is the hashtag of the protesters of Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square, where thousands of Russians have turned out against the government following widespread reports of ballot stuffing and voting irregularities in the last Russian election.

As a communication tool to coordinate protestor activity, #триумфальная became one of the most-tweeted hashtags on Twitter. It’s also become the target of twitter bots blasting automated messages to drown out the tweets of the real activists, reports Brian Krebs on his blog, KrebsonSecurity

These bots post a range of national slogans and crude language using the same hashtag as that used by protestors. With a rate of up to 10 messages per second, they have succeeded in swamping human Twitterers with thousands of messages like the one below.

Russian IT security maven Maxim Goncharov says, “these recent attacks show how the same technology can be used to for one side of a debate to attempt to silence the other side – the equivalent to one group having loudspeakers.

Whether the attack was supported officially or not is not relevant, but we can now see how social media has become the battlefield of a new war for freedom of speech.”

Goncharov has analyzed some 2000 suspicious accounts broadcasting this twitter chaff. He discovered, in true spy-vs-spy fashion,  that the accounts are sleeper bots, activated back in July in anticipation of something, perhaps anticipation of post-stolen-election protest, and once protestors settled on their tags, turned on with auto-botic speed to spam strategic hashtags with anti-protestor or pro-Kremlin sentiments.

Kremlin bigwigs are contributing to the Twitter Bot blast with their own personal contribution, too. A nasty little tweet from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev attracted press attention, “It has become clear that if a person writes the expression ‘party of swindlers and thieves’ in their blog then they are a stupid sheep getting f****d in the mouth .”

Well, at least he used a smiley face. But since my paranoid cup runneth over when it comes to Russian politics and Twitter in general, I’m suspicious that a guy as cautious as Medvedev would send something like that, or that he would let his people do it. Could it have been an infowar counter attack by a protestor who hacked the President’s account?  (Additional insights from a Russian context would be interesting Anyone?)

Fueling my paranoia, @translationguy was hacked last week, in case you were wondering about my sudden enthusiasm for vacation rental properties. Shatterbox quotes Twit Cleaner claims that 50% of all tweets are auto-generated.

Some are malevolent, as we’ve seen with #триумфальная, but others are kind of amusing.  My current favorite  rogue twitter bot is @StealthMountain, which is a Twitter Bot that corrects misspellings of  “Sneak Peek” when spelled “Sneak Peak.” Every time someone in the Twittervers makes that error, @StealthMountian, sends a correction note, “I think you mean ‘Sneak Peek’.” This helpful hint  inflames some readers who respond with invective, which is then automatically favorited by the bot. Funny.

What’s the tip point before Twitter is trashed by spam same as our email inboxes? The most effective spam will be that which is unrecognizable as auto-generated. Since we are talking tweets, it’s going to be harder to distinguish between man and machine tweet, since the more we act like machines (140-word tweet instead of a telephone call, for example) the easier it is for machines to act like us, to steal our time, or worse, to steal our freedom.

16 Comments

  1. Fifi says:

    Once again translation guy brings something to light that I wasn’t up on. Thanks for writing about things going on in other parts of the world.

  2. Kathy Nelson says:

    I can’t imagine that Medvedev would put that out publicly. I’m not saying he has the morals to not do it, but I think he would be smart enough not to. He must have been hacked.

  3. Vivi says:

    Twitterbots seem pretty ingenious. I’d to use some of them to drown out some of them Hollywood Tweeters.

    • Ken says:

      Ashton is waiting, or rather, Ashton’s people are waiting.

  4. Squirt says:

    It seems to me that Twitter is really growing and there are so many users and ways to utilizetweets. I wonder if it will not be able to support everything goes on. I imagine that there will be more sites like this showing up as well as large scale communication platforms.

  5. Stacy Kent says:

    Do they really do that with sheep over there? Not sure I want to keep my wool socks anymore.

  6. Porkchop says:

    Machines have already stolen our freedom. No longer are we free to do the things we used to do. There is no more freedom since we are slaves to our little gadgets.

  7. Has there ever been an election in Russia where the ballot box wasn’t stuffed?

  8. Those Russian protesters better be careful. It’s winter time and the government might take away their weekly vodka rations if they keep protesting the election.

  9. I don’t twitter, but I know a lot of people who do. I’m not against it, just don’t have the time to keep up with the job I have. I see the advantages of using it, and with reading this I can see how others can use and abuse it.

  10. Brian Durham says:

    Hey, if the first lady and the prez can tweet, why can’t the Russian Prez? I wonder how many followers he has?

  11. Curt Zee says:

    Has Tweet been a word of the year? If not, I nominate it. I like it more than occupy.

  12. There should probaby be some sort of law enacted soon about automated responses. There should be fines levied on those who use them.

  13. Wendy Lam says:

    I’m guessing the election results were not on the up and up. But do protesters really think they need to tell others about it? Do russians actually think that the government is trustable? Not sure I would put myself out there as a person speaking against the governement. We have all heard stories.

    • Ken says:

      Scary, right? Come home from work and someone has “accidently” blown up your apartment building. At least Russian protestors aren’t getting popped by snipers like Syrians under seige by their own government.

  14. Niney-Hiney says:

    Who would have thought to create those accounts ahead of time? Interesting use of Twitter by the protesters, but pretty smart way to deal with it with the other accounts.

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