“The unseen machine pushing Trump’s social media megaphone into overdrive”


President Trump launched into a tweetstorm in April, banging out nine retweets of the Centers for Disease Control’s account on the dangers of misusing disinfectant and other topics — two days after he himself had suggested that people could inject themselves with bleach to cure covid-19.

But those tweets spread in an odd pattern: More than half the 3,000 accounts retweeting Trump did so in near-perfect synchronicity, so that the 945th tweet was the same number of seconds apart as the 946th, University of Colorado information science professor Leysia Palen found.

The unusual finding underscores some of the little-known ways in which Trump’s social media army — composed of devoted followers and likely assistance from software that artificially boosts his content — has helped him develop one of the world’s most powerful political megaphones, unlike any other in the English-speaking world.AD

That megaphone has become a frequent source of misinformation, some of it so toxic that Harvard researchers recently dubbed attacks on mail-in voting by Trump and right-leaning leaders “a highly effective disinformation campaign with potentially profound effects … for the legitimacy of the 2020 election.”

Trump’s singular ability to spread his messages, often disseminating false or unsubstantiated information, comes from his prominence as president and the relentless clip of his tweeting to his 87 million followers. He is also aided by a vital feedback loop — often discussed but poorly understood — among the president, high-profile influencers and rank-and-file followers that both push messages in his direction and promote every online utterance.

His feedback loop, according to several new and forthcoming studies, has become a leading threat to the integrity of political debate in the United States, with an impact that to date appears far more damaging than the efforts of Russian operatives or other foreign adversaries.

A study released Thursday by the Election Integrity Partnership, a consortium of misinformation researchers, found that just 20 conservative, pro-Trump Twitter accounts — including the president’s own @realDonaldTrump — were the original source of one-fifth of retweets pushing misleading narratives about voting.


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