Under normal circumstances, Trump’s growing Twitter following would come as no surprise. However, an audit of his account shows that this latest influx of “followers” may not be very organic.
A closer look at Trump’s Twitter account indicates that he is gaining hundreds of new followers by the minute. Most of them, however, have no profile pictures. Or followers. Or tweets. And most were just created this month. Clicking on Trump’s “followers” tab on Twitter displays a slew of “egg” avatars, which usually indicate fake, or bot, accounts.
In the last few days alone, Trump has gained five million new followers. A “Twitter Audit Report” shows that 14,776,939 of his 31 million followers – just under 50 percent – are fake.
It would not be out of character for Trump, in his interminable quest for validation and adoration, to buy millions of new Twitter followers. Perhaps he is even engaging on an aggressive, albeit likely futile, campaign to amass a bigger social media following than his predecessor, Barack Obama. Obama currently has over 89 million followers, a reality that must incense the current President at the outset of each new day.
However, a more dire likelihood exists. During the 2016 election, Russia dispatched a sophisticated army of “bots” to spread fake news “with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.” The presence of millions of new bot accounts is frighteningly reminiscent of the bot army that Russia used to disseminate their propaganda before and during the U.S. election.
Per The Washington Post, Russian-backed fake news botnets and trolls were responsible for an onslaught of attacks on Hillary Clinton’s health after she nearly collapsed at a 9/11 memorial event in New York, that anti-Trump protestors were paid to take to the streets, and a slew of stories about “supposed election irregularities, allegations of vote-rigging and the potential for Election Day violence should Clinton win.”
While Trump’s insatiable ego may very well explain his blatant influx of followers, it would by no means be unprecedented if new accounts were popping up to spread far-right fake news. Russia’s plan to disrupt “the Anglo-Saxon monopoly on the global information streams” is already working into the Kremlin’s hands; just this week, German Chancellor signaled that the European Union would “no longer rely” on the United States. Trump’s thirst for the biggest crowd may very well be what sabotages our democracy.