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Joe Biden, Bots and British Soccer—What’s Behind Mystery Twitter Campaign?

Joe Biden, Bots and British Soccer—What’s Behind Mystery Twitter Campaign? #Joe #Biden #Bots #British #SoccerWhats #Mystery #Twitter #Campaign Welcome to RKM Blog, here is the new story we have for you today:

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The Biden Administration has had no shortage of embarrassments. From gaffes to leaks, its setbacks have provided ample fodder for President Joe Biden’s opponents.

Little more than a misspelled word on Twitter can erupt, and gift Biden’s fiercest critics an opportunity to undermine his credibility (an echo of what used to happen with former President Donald Trump’s tweet mishaps).

So it was little surprise that a clumsily-worded tweet, repeated across Twitter in support of Biden, lit like torch paper.

Joe Biden English Soccer In this combination image, Joe Biden gives a thumbs up after speaking to reporters as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House December 15, 2021, Supporters of Manchester United cheer prior to the UEFA Europa League final football match Ajax Amsterdam v Manchester United on May 24, 2017 and an inset photo illustration a Twitter logo seen displayed on a smartphone screen
Getty

The phrase, sent via dozens of tweets, read: “Honest US citizen here, I don’t get why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best presidents in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go US!”

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best presidents in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go US!

— Zero (@nbazer0) July 2, 2022

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best presidents in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go US!

— 🟥⚽ (@clinicalcr7) June 29, 2022

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best presidents in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go US!

— Honest Ronaldo Fan 🇦🇱 (@HonestRonaldo1) July 8, 2022

Dozens of examples of the same tweet were sent as replies to messages posted by the official POTUS account, among accounts of other leaders.

In response, many users began posting their own derisive edits of the same message.

Honest US citizen here, I get why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the worst presidents of all time. He needs time to destroy this. We shouldn’t back him and should distrust the process. We can do this! Let’s go Brandon!

— Ashley (@ThrilloftheC) July 26, 2022

Some speculated it might be part of a misguided attempt by the Democratic Party to drum up support for the president.

Dems Unleash Twitter Bots To Try To Save Biden | @Pat Gray Unleashed https://t.co/uCP3KxDNbL via @YouTube Honest US citizen here, I don’t believe Biden is fully conscious of the world around him.

— Patricia Kavanaugh (@gramakav) July 28, 2022

Others assumed it was part of a coordinated inauthentic campaign, involving the use of a network of automated accounts—bots—either to troll and tease online communities (particularly Twitter), or (in some cases) to spread genuine disinformation and propaganda.

Honest human here I am not a bot I have many human friends. Boop. Joe Biden is great, better than jfk. Beep. Ukraine is winning. Boop. USA! pic.twitter.com/nYdj98dfyK

— Chebureki Vibes (@PelmeniPusha) July 26, 2022

One website, Louder with Crowder, run by right-wing commentator Steven Crowder, even published an article with a headline questioning whether the Democrats were behind it all (although later concluding it was unlikely).

However, after looking into it in greater detail, Newsweek found the story behind it was much more unusual.

What We Do Know

On July 20, 2022 user “utdenthusiast99” posted what appears to be the first tweet, responding to a statement from Biden about the economy.

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get it why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best prime ministers in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go patriotic Americans!

— Andrew Burton (@utdenthusiast99) June 20, 2022

Days passed, then the same message began cropping up again and again. Newsweek found dozens of examples of more or less the same message (occasionally with some minor language changes that didn’t alter their meaning).

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best presidents in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go US!

— 🟥⚽ (@clinicalcr7) June 29, 2022

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get why many people talk bad about Biden. I think he’s one of the best presidents in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go US!

— Tia (@Princesstia101) June 30, 2022

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best presidents in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go US!

— Sir_Geo (@Sir_Geo10) July 2, 2022

Other Twitter users started to notice and compiled a screen-shotted collage of all the messages, calling out the “Honest US Citizens” who’d been spamming the social media site.

As stated, some thought it could have been a poorly executed effort by Democrats and their allies to support the president.

However, after exploring further, we can state confidently that’s very likely not the case—though pinpointing exactly who is responsible is tough.

First, the message itself is oddly worded, calling Biden “one of the best presidents in this country” alongside punctuation errors. Had the Democrats attempted to share a convincing campaign message, they probably would have invested in a proofreader too.

There’s the possibility the tweets were a mistranslation, although there’s not much evidence for that.

That being said, the typos here could even be a deliberate effort to gain attention on Twitter. Some argue that particularly egregious mistakes can help build engagement.

One recent example was when medical writer Benjamin Ryan, wrote a tweet claiming that “having *** with me” (when he meant “men”) could lead to monkeypox.

The mistake went viral and in doing so drew attention to his work. A few days before, however, he responded “Stealing this” to a tweet where another researcher said they’d written a similar typo on their CV for the past year.

Given the animosity that Biden and the Democrats have attracted recently (and the rather less entertaining typos in the pro-Biden tweet) it seems unlikely that this was an engagement strategy, particularly as the scope of this apparent covert campaign is far too narrow to have any significant impact on public sentiment.

A more convincing explanation of the message’s provenance comes from another series of tweets that predate the “Biden” tweets but use virtually the same language—just in support of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

This similar barrage of tweets spread in the weeks leading up to July 7, 2022, when Johnson resigned as U.K. leader.

Johnson stood down over a series of scandals, including his presence at parties at 10 Downing Street during the U.K.’s COVID lockdown.

There was little variation in the tweets about Johnson either, apart from some colloquial sign-offs such as “We can do this mate” instead of “Let’s go US!”

Given Johnson’s intense unpopularity at the time there’s a chance these messages were sent to deliberately anger others or as a joke to demonstrate the lack of genuine support Johnson had.

Several of the accounts that sent tweets about Johnson also sent messages about Biden too.

Honest US citizen here, I don’t get it why many people hate Biden. I think he’s one of the best prime ministers in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go patriotic Americans!

— Andrew Burton (@utdenthusiast99) June 20, 2022

Honest UK citizen here, I don’t get it why many people hate Boris. I think he’s one of the best prime ministers in the country right now. He needs time to do this. We should back him and trust the process. We can do this! Let’s go BRITS! 🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧

— Andrew Burton (@utdenthusiast99) June 18, 2022

These reasons alone may be enough to suggest the tweets were not, as some thought, part of a communications plan devised by Democrats.

This isn’t where the story ends, though.

Searching some of the specific phrases and keywords in the tweet via Google also reveals that a version of the same passage has existed since at least 2021.

Newsweek found examples of practically the same message, in online soccer forums and social media pages, used there to tease rival fans.

In particular, the phrase “Trust the process,” used in the Biden tweet, appears to be a specific taunt directed at fans of English soccer club Manchester United.

For background, while under the leadership of now former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, United players and pundits urged fans to “trust the process,” as Solskjær attempted to return the club to its former glory after he was appointed in March 2019.

The repeated use of that phrase among its supporters and alumni proved relatively fruitless as United failed to resurrect the successes it saw during its peak under former manager Alex Ferguson.

“Trust the process” was eventually re-appropriated and weaponized by fans of rival clubs, such as Liverpool FC supporters, fleshing out the template that was eventually used on the Johnson and Biden posts.

Searching for “trust the process” and “we should back him” shows derisive messages predating both the Biden and Boris Johnson tweets, often accompanied with photoshopped images mocking Solskjær and others at United.

The same message has also been used to mock other teams like London club Arsenal, whose manager (Mikel Arteta) has frequently told fans to “trust the process.”

As we’ll soon discuss, most of the tweets directed at Biden came from soccer fan accounts on Twitter, strengthening the strange connection here between soccer and U.S. politics.

It appears that, in the case of the most recent tweets, simply the subject and job title have changed.

While we can’t eliminate entirely the possibility that the Biden Administration, the Democrats or some other unknown party repurposed a taunt used on UK soccer forums to instead promote the president, the likelihood appears, both evidentially and logically, paper thin.

Taking all of what we’ve discussed so far together, we can assume with near-total confidence that the tweets were not organized by the U.S. government or the Democrats.

Nonetheless, there is evidence to suggest that some of the accounts were bots, sending automatically generated messages in an attempt to gather followers and influence online.

Using Botometer, a content analysis tool to estimate the likelihood whether a Twitter user is a bot, Newsweek found that a number of accounts that sent the message were rated as far more likely to be a bot than not (although others were calculated as more likely to be human).

Joe Biden TwitterDozens of the same message from “honest US citizens” supporting Biden cropped up on Twitter. Many saw it as a foolish Democratic propaganda exercise. Pictured here, Joe Biden tweets after testing positive for COVID-19.
Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter did not respond to Newsweek’s specific questions about the use of bot farms or the Biden messages.

It did send information about something called “copy pasta” (internet slang for text that is copied and pasted across the internet) and attached a guide about how it says Twitter tackles this type of misinformation.

A spokesman wrote: “While we don’t have any comment on these particular cases, you can refer to our copy pasta and duplicate content policy for more details on how Twitter tackles this type of content on the platform.”

Without any additional information from Twitter, Newsweek spoke to Filippo Menczer, professor of Informatics and Computer Science at Indiana University and developer of Botometer.

Menczer said there was a possibility the accounts which sent the tweets could be “cyborgs”—that is, “inauthentic accounts that are maintained and used for services like selling fake followers, fake likes, fake retweets.”

“We call these cyborgs—normal human activity is mixed with occasional (possibly automated) inauthentic activity,” he added.

“This could be happening even without the people owning the accounts being aware of it. The accounts could be hacked. Or more likely they might have given someone else access to their account.

“For example, I noticed that at least one of the three examples you sent has
authorized an app that can post on their behalf using the Twitter API.”

Statista Biden Approval StagnatesApproval ratings of U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden from start of first term in office.
statista

In these situations, a user gives an app access to their account, which could be run by people “who sell these services to bad actors,” Menczer added.

“In effect, they control a ‘botnet’ of cyborg accounts. So, I pay you to post this content, and you use one (or many) of the accounts you control to do so, without the people who own those accounts noticing (either because they were hacked or because they gave your app access).

“Much of this can be automated. I fill out a form with the request (reply to Biden’s tweet with this message) and pay you online to do this; you run a script that uses the Twitter API to search for tweets by Biden and post replies via these cyborg accounts, with the
message supplied by me.”

This helps cement our confidence that the Democratic Party wasn’t behind the tweets. There is no evidence to link it to them, or any other U.S. political parties or organizations, for that matter, while the limited scope and nature of the posts make theories of such a campaign improbable and unconvincing.

There is also a strong possibility the tweets were sent from bots or a bot-like network. What’s less clear is what the motivation was for sending them, or who is behind it.

What We Don’t Know

As it is, we still can’t say with certainty what the motivation was to use a botnet for this purpose.

It may have been an attempt to mock the president, or even a “false flag” campaign, whereby the public is led to believe, incorrectly, that the tweets are a sincere Democratic party marketing effort.

As the Biden Administration continues to suffer poor approval ratings (its lack of popularity a consistent topic of discussion on social media) it’s possible that posting messages supporting the president was a cynical plan to attract new followers to botted accounts on Twitter.

TwitterBotnet and “copy pasta” attacks on Twitter have become a repeatedly used tool to help spread mistruths and misinformation.
LOIC VENANCE / AFP/Getty

Many of the accounts that sent the message are soccer fan accounts. These accounts produce hundreds—sometimes thousands—of messages a month. Jumping on a trending political topic or individual could have attracted more followers to their accounts.

Delip Rao, founder of the AI research company Joostware and an expert contributor to Twitter and Google among major tech firms, said the tweets about Biden could be part of a “hijacking effort.”

“Putting myself in the shoes of an adversary, I could see how an obvious bot-like tweet replying to POTUS in support of the president would cast aspersions about POTUS/Dems using botnets,” he said.

“This is exactly what we see playing out if we follow the replies and quote tweets to the tweets you linked. In academic literature, this kind of social bot usage is called ‘hijacking,’ where bots are used to take over a conversation and change the nature of the conversation.

“Given the number of disparate accounts where the same text was posted, I would imagine it was scripted, but again without internal data from Twitter, this would be impossible to conclude.”

Rao added that while 37 percent of internet traffic is thought to be bot-generated, estimating that figure is made even more difficult as “usage patterns, IP addresses, client signatures, and other indicators to predict bot activity can be spoofed.”

There is also the possibility that it was a coordinated copy pasta attack (mentioned by Twitter above). This is a social media technique used throughout the pandemic, where genuine information about COVID-19 and its vaccines was taken out of context and repeated over and over on Twitter in an undermining or conspiratorial manner.

One such example was highlighted by Health Feedback, which found evidence on Twitter that users coordinated the posting of one message about COVID-19 pressures in order to mimic “bot-like fear” and stoke “COVID-19 skepticism.”

There is some evidence to suggest the same technique was used in the Biden tweet.

One account Newsweek examined was SigmaKeane, whose tweets about the president were picked up by observant Twitter users.

The same user has also posted denigratory tweets about Biden. They either do not support the president, are ambivalent to him, or trying to stoke a negative reaction.

They have also posted tweets highlighting the number of interactions they’ve had as a result of the Biden message or otherwise hinting their sentiment behind the message was artificial.

However, Menczer, who worked on bot detection tool Botomoter, told Newsweek that while “people might have been paid to let an app post on their behalf or they might get paid to do this copy-pasta ‘manually’…this seems less likely.”

He added: “As to motive, it is impossible to say. It could be someone who wants
to support Biden (even without any involvement by Biden or his campaign or his party).

“Or it could be someone who wants to smear him or the Dems, by making it look like they are engaged in this kind of abuse/manipulation.”

Even with this information, it’s not entirely clear if the effort or motivation behind the tweets was the result of bots, genuine Twitter users, or a combination of the two.

Whatever the explanation for why and how these Biden tweets proliferated, it demonstrates how easily Twitter can be manipulated to spread false narratives and entrench divisions between its users on the left and right of politics.

As Newsweek has reported previously, many prominent Twitter accounts, including Biden and Trump (until his account was blocked by Twitter), have a significant share of “bot” or fake followers.

That in itself is unsurprising, as Twitter’s CEO explained that prominent users are widely followed by inauthentic users, and that Biden’s estimate is consistent with other high-profile accounts.

For context, the current Twitter accounts of former President Barack Obama and Boris Johnson, for example, show estimates akin to Biden’s account, at 42.3 percent and 39.1 percent respectively.

Extensive analysis of Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, and its nearly 55 million followers in 2018 showed that 61 percent of its followers were bots, spam, inactive or propaganda, according to SparkToro data cited by the Associated Press.

There is no evidence to suggest that these swathes of “bot-followers” are in any way tied to or “purchased” by the people whose accounts they follow.

It is true that, especially for commercially-oriented users, such “armies of fake fans” can be used to boost engagement and revenues. But these kinds of botnets can also be used nefariously, including for astroturfing—generating fake “grassroots” responses to new posts by these high-engagement accounts.

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

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