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A Reporter Built a Bot To Find Nazi Sock Puppet Accounts. Twitter Banned the Bot and Kept the Nazis (nytimes.com) 648

Yair Rosenberg, writing for the New York Times: I asked my own Twitter followers whether it might be possible to create a bot that would reply to these impostors and expose their true nature to any users they tried to fool. Neal Chandra, a talented developer in San Francisco whom I've never met, replied, "I can try to throw something together this evening." And so, after a week of testing, Impostor Buster was born. Using a crowdsourced database of impersonator accounts, carefully curated by us to avoid any false positives, the bot patrolled Twitter and interjected whenever impostors tried to insinuate themselves into a discussion (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled). Within days, our golem for the digital age had become a runaway success, garnering thousands of followers and numerous press write-ups. Most important, we received countless thank-yous from alerted would-be victims. The impersonator trolls seethed. Some tried changing their user names to evade the bot (it didn't work). Others simply reverted to their openly neo-Nazi personas. A few even tried to impersonate the bot, which was vastly preferable from our perspective and rather amusing. Twitter sided with the Nazis. In April, the service suspended Impostor Buster without explanation and reinstated it only after being contacted by the ADL's cyber-hate team. Over the next few months, we fine-tuned the bot to reduce its tweets and avoid tripping any of Twitter's alarms. As the trolls continued to report the bot to no avail, we thought the problem was resolved. But we were wrong. This month, Twitter suspended the bot again, and this time refused to revive it.
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A Reporter Built a Bot To Find Nazi Sock Puppet Accounts. Twitter Banned the Bot and Kept the Nazis

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  • Bots (Score:5, Informative)

    by zoid.com ( 311775 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @03:11AM (#55820187) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, Twitter has a bot policy.

    https://help.twitter.com/en/ru... [twitter.com]

    • Exactly.

    • CensorBot (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thesupraman ( 179040 )

      Not to mention that the title is pretty much a lie.
      This 'reporter' selected a bunch of target accounts that they wanted to target, and pointed a bot at them than just spam-replied to attack those accounts.
      The bot was doing no finding, no uncovering, nothing smart, it was just attempting to censor through spam.

      The guy got exactly what he deserved - in fact was treated better than he should be, because their first time around he actually did manage to get his spam-bot reinstated - it was only the second time

      • Re:CensorBot (Score:4, Informative)

        by Pinky's Brain ( 1158667 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @06:25AM (#55820629)

        I don't think that was what they were after, I think they were looking to get banned.

        What was curiously absent from the article is any mention of attempts to report the impersonators, twitter has a policy which states that impersonation is not allowed after all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        He will try and spin victim-politics here, but the fact is that he feels the right to be the sole determiner of who should be removed from a platform he has nothing to do with. It doesnt reall ymatter if his targets are good, bad, or indifferent - he simply does not have that right.

        Welcome to the cult known as social justice(this also includes the current flavor of 3rd wave intersectional feminism) and nazi hysteria. Here's your complimentary rage face(including tears), and a list of "nazi" accounts where you can go and contact their employers to try and get people fired. Keep in mind that nazi is anyone to the right of Trotsky though, and punching nazi's? Well if you don't, then you're also a nazi.

        We're probably in the largest isolation bubble of our time because social media direc

    • Re:Bots (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Freischutz ( 4776131 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:33AM (#55820355)

      Yeah, Twitter has a bot policy.

      https://help.twitter.com/en/ru... [twitter.com]

      Yeah but Twitter's biggest problem is also how to clamp down on abusive trolls. A former Twitter employee called the platform: "a honeypot for a**holes”, even Twitter's CEO started worrying about the a**hole factor when celebrities got fed up with the trolls and started abandoning Twitter. It seems to me this bot might be the answer to Twitter's problems rather than one of their problems even if they only used it to monitor the abusers more effectively. They should be sending these people joboffers instead of ban notices.

      • You think bots spamming is the solution, really?

        • You think bots spamming is the solution, really?

          So you read my post, filtered out everything except the word 'bot' and instantly boiled over? From what I can tell this bot just monitored impersonator trolls and warned people about them. If Twitter used it to spam their abuse regulators instead of users with reports of what known trolls are doing, when they are abusing somebody and how severe the abuse is and then warned the users and suspended the troll once they had enough evidence I'd say that would constitute a solution to a certain very pervasive pro

          • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

            So you read my post, filtered out everything except the word 'bot' and instantly boiled over?

            No, it was just the idea of 'spam' really. I'm genuinely surprised being a Slashdot user, you forget when people tried this on Usenet.

      • This "bot policy" is discriminatory in nature. This is not the America our forefathers envisioned.
      • Maybe they could employ the bot themselves?

        The challenge is blocking off accounts, without appearing to censor speech. Maybe they could create a behaviour flag and then let people decide if they want to ignore accounts with certain personality or behaviour types? They may have looked at this already, but then again I don't really know how much they care?

    • Re:Bots (Score:5, Informative)

      by tietokone-olmi ( 26595 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @05:06AM (#55820435)

      Twitter also has a stalking policy. And I don't think it's got an exception for people claiming to just be chasing dem nazies.

  • I smell a fish (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@COLAtpno-co.org minus caffeine> on Thursday December 28, 2017 @03:11AM (#55820189) Homepage

    Look, I'm on board with a good nazi bash just like everyone else...but...

    This smells fishy. They openly admit they spammed people, and they don't provide context to the discussion. Twitter is known for having a somewhat left-bias, so if these folks were identified and banned, twice, I'm already suspicious.

    The linked article stinks of sensationalism, and that's what tripped my bullshit sensors from the start.

    These assholes may be telling the truth, and they may be entirely justified in their outrage, but the article and the style in which it was written makes me highly suspicious.

    • I was about to post "is this for real?" too. But it's probably also worth noting that you can discredit a victim by attacking in an esoteric fashion.

    • by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @03:19AM (#55820207)

      It sounds a lot like they took a self-selected list of target accounts that they selected (or. People they personally chose to try and censor) and had a bot continuously spam any place those people tried to speak.

      Perhaps it is just me, but doing that seems pretty damn 'nazi' (to use the modern interpretation of the word) and deserves a ban hammer at the least.

      What they have done is basically told the world 'or opinion is RIGHT, and we will shout down any other opinions, because only our opinion is allowed to be heard, agree with us or pay the price'

      In other words they are closed minded self riteous morons who want the world to be their own personal echo chamber.

      It seems however the right thing was, almost surprisingly, done.

      • "It sounds a lot like they took a self-selected list of target accounts that they selected (or. People they personally chose to try and censor) and had a bot continuously spam any place those people tried to speak."

        You can see this a lot on every post that President Trump posts. There will be five or 6 posts from the same bot posting pre-formatted replies against him before anyone else has had a chance to post anything.

        It's kind of entertaining.

        • You can see this a lot on every post that President Trump posts. There will be five or 6 posts from the same bot posting pre-formatted replies against him before anyone else has had a chance to post anything.

          It's kind of entertaining.

          They're actually from people on his staff, trying to moderate the crazy stuff he says before he's had his coffee - I mean his first 3 Diet Cokes.

    • Well I found it impressive he was able to throw together a Turing Test capable chatbot in an evening and have operating as production software by the end of the week.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by shilly ( 142940 )

      "Twitter is known for having a somewhat left-bias"??

      The most famous Twitter account in the world belongs to Donald Trump. Is he on the left in the world you live in?

      • Nice red herring.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by shilly ( 142940 )

          How so?
          The OP provided literally no evidence at all that there is a left bias to Twitter. He commented on an article that was about a right bias. I pointed out that the most famous Twitter account of all is used by the right wing US president (and to retweet videos from British far right parties, too). So tell me how that's a red herring?

          • I understand wanting to call people out when they say unreasonable things. But in this case, you're asking someone to source something that is well documented and that you could very easily search for yourself. If you want to call people out for saying ridiculous things, you need to first actually verify that what they're saying is ridiculous. Maybe simply check and see if someone has pointed out a bias you didn't know about. A very cursory amount of research online will reveal that yes, Twitter generally h

      • Re:I smell a fish (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @05:24AM (#55820455)

        "Twitter is known for having a somewhat left-bias"??

        The Overton window is a bitch. Silicon Valley Libertarianism is now considered left-wing.

    • Twitter , Facebook, Youtube are still businesses and they're not on the forefront of the censorship drive. They will be compliant to being pressured though. This is all part of teh pressuring.

  • User stats (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you eliminate the troll accounts, you would find twitter is not experiencing the growth it claims.

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:40AM (#55820371) Journal

    "You looked at me in a way that I didn't like - you're a nazi fascist sexist misogynist and you need to die."

    Any and all reasons for calling someone a "nazi" are fair game. So much so that the word has now lost almost all meaning.

    • It's unfortunate that the word's meaning got diluted over the years, e.g. we now have grammar Nazis and soup Nazis. But there are literal Nazis too, and in recent years they have seen a resurgence and gains in political power.

  • These impersonators are simply creating a Twitter account with appealing pictures/simplistic bios and people care about whatever they say?! If that bot was doing something useful, I guess that it should continue doing so (BTW, is it so difficult for the bot creators to just open another Twitter account and simply perform the corresponding updates, probably just modifying the API connection info?). On the other hand, people who can be tricked so easily are very likely to be tricked anyway: there is no easy f

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