When Twitter was outed for housing hundreds of thousands of propagandist Russian bots during the 2016 US election, it vowed to do better.
The company became committed to “transparency”, donated the ad revenue the propaganda pulled in, and made a bunch of promises as to how they would avoid this manipulation in the future.
As Twitter was making promises, though, South Africa was discovering the extent of its own misinformation campaigns.
Twitter has promised the US more “transparency”, but has kept mum on SA’s Guptabots
In November 2016, The Daily Maverick first identified 100 Twitter accounts that all touted similar messages with “white monopoly capital” as a core tenet. The pro-Zuma accounts (and related websites) quickly became linked to the infamous Gupta family.
South African researchers and journalists have worked hard in 2017 to shed light on a situation that’s murky at best — but over a year later, Twitter still hasn’t made a move to rid its platform of the bots. This is clear from the talk around newly-elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa.
On Tuesday morning, #ANC54 and “Cyril Ramaphosa” were trending in first and second spot respectively, and the tags were teeming with bots clearly unhappy with the result of the election.
Victory of @DPRamaphosa is the insult of the word ‘victory’ itself.I wonder how can a corrupt man be the President of SA today?Well,it is all the power of money tht hs won.It is not #Ramaphosa but Apartheid beneficiaries that has won.#ANC54#CyrilRamaphosa@IOL@ANCYLhq@News24pic.twitter.com/e8qp2Bsc0q
— Anna Mabaso (@AnnaMabaso3) December 19, 2017
None of this is new — Bell Pottinger was punished for its role in the Gupta racial discord campaign back in September — yet not a peep has been heard from Twitter.
Earlier this month, SA marketer Andrew Fraser noted that 455 Guptabots had been suspended on Sunday, 10 December, months after they had originally been reported. Twitter told Fraser and others that the accounts had violated its rules.
But why not speak out publicly? And why not issue further protection for South African users, like better reporting infrastructure or media warnings?
Despite the company’s supposed focus on misinformation campaigns, it has barely acknowledged that countries other than the US are experiencing issues of their own. It’s about time it did.