Twitter began suspending 70 accounts supporting Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg on Friday, claiming that the accounts violated its rules against “platform manipulation and spam.” The social media company stated that some suspensions would be permanent. In other cases, Twitter will ask account owners to prove that they control their accounts.
The action against the accounts, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, comes after it became known that Bloomberg’s campaign was hiring hundreds of “deputy digital organisers” and paying them $US2,500 ($3,772) a month to promote the candidate in their personal circles on a weekly basis via text message and support him with posts on their social media accounts. Bloomberg deputy digital organisers receive suggested messages from the campaign.
The campaign is using an app called Outvote to coordinate its efforts. Outvote lets users send pre-written texts, post campaign materials to social media and send data back to campaigns.
According to the Los Angeles Times, some organisers use identical text, images, links and hashtags in their posts. This is apparently what caused problems with Twitter. In one example from this past week, multiple accounts tweeted the exact same tweet: “A President Is Born: Barbra Streisand sings Mike’s praises. Check out her tweet.” The tweets also all included the same link.
A Twitter spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the Bloomberg campaign’s practice of paying Twitter users was a factor in the suspensions. However, the spokesman said that accounts behaving in substantially the same manner would receive the same treatment, regardless of who controls them.
Twitter states that these accounts violated its “Platform manipulation and spam policy.” Twitter defines platform manipulation, which it states can take many forms, as using the social media network to engage in bulk, aggressive or deceptive activity that misleads others and/or disrupts their experience.
Specifically, Twitter said that by sponsoring hundreds of new accounts that posted “copy-pasted content,” the Bloomberg campaign had violated its rules against “creating multiple accounts to post duplicative content,” “posting identical or substantially similar tweets from multiple accounts you operate” and “coordinating with or compensating others to engage in artificial engagement or amplification, even if the people involved use only one account.”
The Los Angeles Times notes that not all the account suspensions could involve paid Bloomberg supporters. Some suspensions could also involve unpaid supporters or volunteers.
Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign, said that the campaign asks all deputy field organisers to identify themselves as working on behalf of Bloomberg on their social media accounts.
“Through Outvote, content is shared by staffers and volunteers to their network of friends and family and was not intended to mislead anyone,” Singh said.
Bloomberg’s social media strategy is one of the latest efforts deployed by his campaign, which had spent $US409 ($617) million by the end of January. The campaign has also partnered with online meme makers to create memes supporting Bloomberg’s candidacy. Bloomberg has spent more than the top four democratic frontrunners — Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg — combined since they began campaigning.