Tuesday afternoon, Bot Sentinel released their long-awaited report on their investigation into the social media hate accounts targeting the Duchess of Sussex. Some of the accounts attack both Prince Harry and Meghan, but Meghan has been directly targeted by vile racism, misogyny, lies and a coordinated disinformation campaign for years now. That was one of the big takeaways from Bot Sentinel’s report: the hate campaign IS a campaign, and the people are coordinating with each other and helping each other evade Twitter’s rules. They are not “bots” or random people being paid to tweet random sh-t about Meghan. There are about 83 accounts coordinating with each other to smear and abuse Meghan online. Ellie Hall at Buzzfeed had an interview with Bot Sentinel’s CEO Christopher Bouzy, and here are some highlights:
The report: An analysis of more than 114,000 tweets about the couple has revealed a coordinated campaign of targeted harassment of Meghan on Twitter — and the 83 accounts responsible for approximately 70% of the negative and often hateful content. Twitter analytics service Bot Sentinel released a report examining Twitter activity related to the Sussexes and found that the majority of the hate and misinformation about the couple originated from a small group of accounts whose primary, if not sole, purpose appears to be to tweet negatively about them. Bot Sentinel’s analysis also revealed a level of sophistication and coordination between the accounts, who use their combined 187,631 followers to fuel a campaign of negativity against Harry and Meghan.
Twitter is trying to shut down the accounts: A Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that they are “actively investigating the information and accounts referenced in this report — we will take action on accounts that violate the Twitter Rules.”
The anti-Meghan campaign is unlike other disinformation campaigns: Bot Sentinel CEO Christopher Bouzy told BuzzFeed News that this anti-Meghan Twitter campaign is unlike anything he and his team have ever seen before. “There’s no motive,” he said, comparing the anti-Meghan campaign to other disinformation and harassment campaigns on Twitter such as the #StopTheSteal movement to overturn the results of the 2020 US presidential election or the campaign to remove actor Amber Heard from the upcoming Aquaman sequel as a result of abuse allegations made against her by ex-husband Johnny Depp. “Are these people who hate her? Is it racism? Are they trying to hurt [Harry and Meghan’s] credibility? Your guess is as good as ours.”
Real humans are behind it: Bouzy emphasized that the negative Twitter activity is not fueled by automated bot accounts, but real accounts run by humans. “This campaign comes from people who know how to manipulate the algorithms, manipulate Twitter, stay under the wire to avoid detection and suspension,” he said. “This level of complexity comes from people who know how to do this stuff, who are paid to do this stuff.”
How the accounts evade detection: Bouzy said the users targeting Meghan and Harry are operating “in a more clever way than we normally see.” He said their hateful tweets are mixed in with tweets that do not violate Twitter’s terms of service, making these accounts harder for Bot Sentinel to automatically detect. Bouzy told BuzzFeed News that it’s easier for these single-purpose anti-Sussex accounts to also avoid detection because they pair their negative content about Harry and Meghan that violate the terms of service with positive comments about other members of the royal family, particularly Harry’s brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Many accounts have already been suspended: The report states that 40% of the primary accounts listed have been previously suspended by Twitter, and Bouzy said that most of the primary accounts engage in behavior specifically to avoid suspension, such as making their accounts private or temporarily deactivating them, only to return days later. “What these accounts are doing — they’re really flying under the wire,” Bouzy said. “They’re right at the edge. They’re doing things our technology isn’t going to catch.”
How they operate: “These primary and secondary accounts are pushing [hate and disinformation] out, and then it’s being taken over by organic hate,” Bouzy said. “You have the ringleaders, then the secondary accounts, and then an outside network that also amplifies and pushes a certain narrative.”
Whenever I see a troll in my mentions, I immediately mute or block – I’ve gotten into that habit in recent years and I have no regrets about it. But I have followed some of the pro-Meghan accounts’ attempts to at least keep an eye on some of the hate accounts, and it was a big day when “Murky Meg” was finally suspended from Twitter, as she was one of the ringleader accounts. In Murky’s absence, there has been some kind of power vacuum and that’s all I’m willing to say about that. In my opinion, Bouzy is mostly right: it’s not a like a bot-driven disinformation campaign with political goals or what have you. It’s just regular old racist lunatics who sit on social media all day, talking sh-t about Meghan. Now, I also believe that some of the accounts (not all, but some) are displaying a sophisticated level of coordination. As Bouzy said, “This level of complexity comes from people who know how to do this stuff, who are paid to do this stuff.”
In October 2021, Bot Sentinel Inc. launched an investigation into the negative Twitter activity concentrated on Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Here is what we uncovered…
— Christopher Bouzy (@cbouzy) October 26, 2021
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid.