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Twitter backtracks on troll claims, media ignores updated info

Twitter quietly revised its public database of ‘Russian bot’ accounts earlier this month, removing 228 accounts it previously said were “connected to Russia”— but the admission has gone almost completely unnoticed by the media.

Bloomberg reported on the “burst of activity” from the bot accounts and claimed that Russia’s “social-media trolling operation” was “stepping up its Twitter presence to new heights.”

Fast-forward to 2019 and Twitter has removed 228 of these accounts from the database, saying they had “initially misidentified” them as being linked to Russia,  but nobody in the media seems to have noticed.

In fact, Bloomberg is the only major US outlet which bothered to correct the story to reflect reality, admitting that Twitter’s changes to the dataset “invalidate central portions” of its original report and that there was “no surge” in this so-called Russian bot activity at the time in question. Oops!

n a statement to Bloomberg, Roth later admitted that “definitive attribution is very, very difficult.” The Bloomberg mea culpa also noted that Twitter is “reluctant to discuss” how it connects accounts to so-called trolling networks in the first place.

Some on Twitter quickly pointed out that the timing of the pivot to focus on Venezuelan bots was curious, given the US’ recent efforts to engineer regime change against the government of Nicolas Maduro.

Journalist Sam Sacks tweeted that the new information about Venezuelan bots was “convenient” and said that the vast majority of stories written about Russian trolls and their alleged social media activity are “based on junk research.” Sacks also questioned why anyone should have faith in the credibility of such flawed analyses going forward.

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