As Twitter ramps up its efforts to purge suspicious and fake accounts from its platform, President Donald Trump has two suggestions for which accounts should be deleted: those of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Neither of these accounts are fake or suspicious.
Here’s the kicker: In a Saturday tweet calling for those accounts to be deleted, Trump appeared to be reacting to a Washington Post story by Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin. The story explored Twitter’s increased focus on suspending fishy accounts on its service, as part of its efforts to police activity by bots and trolls and prevent a repeat of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Twitter has more than doubled the pace of its bot-policing efforts since October, axing 70 million accounts in May and June and keeping up that rate in July.
Over the weekend the president tweeted that Twitter is “getting rid of accounts at a record pace,” an apparent remark on the Post story. He asked whether the “Failing New York Times” and “propaganda machine for Amazon, Washington Post” would have their accounts deleted.
According to the Post’s report on Twitter’s bot-fighting efforts, political pressure from Congress (in reaction to Russia’s election meddling) is driving the social media giant’s purge. News reports about Twitter’s bot problem and a “rethinking of Twitter’s role in promoting online conversation” have also contributed to its more aggressive stance. Twitter is cutting so many accounts. this might result in a decline in the number of monthly users reported in its second-quarter earnings announcement.
Trump hasn’t been pressuring Twitter to purge its user base — at least not the truly problematic bot accounts.
The president is mad about press coverage of him. He’s fine with the bots.
Saturday’s tweet is yet another example of Trump’s sustained attack on the media and anger at coverage of him that is negative or that he doesn’t like. Multiple times he has gone after both the Times and the Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Of course, the Twitter accounts of reputable news organizations aren’t among the estimated 1 million a day that the company is purging. It is getting rid of fake and bot accounts of the sort that Clay Aiken bought to boost his Volvo complaint and Louise Linton used to increase her internet following. More notable is the fact that it is clamping down on the fake accounts of the type that Russians used to spread disinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign and afterward, and the ones made to fuel political debate and spread false information. At the start of the year Twitter alerted about 1.4 million US users that they might have interacted with a Russia-linked account during the 2016 election.
Trump has often been ambivalent about the Russians’ meddling in the 2016 election, and it’s not clear whether he takes the matter very seriously. In February the president claimed he never said the Russian election interference did not happen, but he has done so publicly multiple times. He has persistently decried as a “witch hunt” the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller of Russian meddling as well as possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The president has often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and seemed to accept his denials of his involvement in the election-influence campaign, despite conclusions from US intelligence agencies and the Senate that Putin had ordered the efforts.
At a recent rally in Montana, Trump, who is expected to meet with Putin a summit in Helsinki later this month, didn’t have a bad word to say about him. “You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine,” Trump said.
Trump has a history of interacting with the types of accounts that Twitter is suspending
In August Trump tweeted a thanks to one of his social media supporters, known as @ProTrump45, which wound up being a bot. Twitter subsequently suspended the account. That same month he tweeted a “fake news” complaint from another user that, as Mashable pointed out, also appeared to be a bot.
Those aren’t the only times Trump has had some eyebrow-raising Twitter interactions with suspicious accounts. In November the president came under fire for retweeting videos from a far-right British account that produces anti-Muslim content. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump retweeted a tweet from a “White Genocide” account mocking Jeb Bush.
Perhaps part of the reason that Trump isn’t so bothered by the bots is that they actually help him: Twitter in January said that Russian-linked bots shared Trump’s tweets nearly half a million times in the last two and a half months of the 2016 election.