Joe Sonka, Louisville Courier Journal
Gov. Matt Bevin holds a press conference aftger requesting a recanvass of votes in the Kentucky gubernatorial election Sam Upshaw Jr., Louisville Courier Journal
Twitter is denying reports that thousands of automated accounts on its site spread misinformation about Kentucky’s election for governor last week.
A spokesperson for the company said its investigations found no evidence of “bot activity,” and attempts to spread misinformation about the election on Twitter were driven by “organic, authentic conversation.”
The Courier Journal and The New York Times reported this week that Vinesight, a company tracking political misinformation of social media, discovered thousands of accounts with bot-like automated behavior sprang into action shortly after votes were counted on the night of the election.
One of the tweets that spread the furthest came from a person claiming to have shredded a box of Republican ballots. While that tweet was initially taken down by Twitter for violating its rules, a screenshot of the deleted tweet then went viral as accounts posted it and retweeted it.
However, the statement from Twitter issued Tuesday said there was no bot activity spreading such misinformation on its site.
“Using technology and human review, we work proactively to identify attempts to undermine the public conversation,” read the Twitter statement. “Despite recent reporting — which is factually inaccurate — our investigations have not found evidence of bot activity.”
The Twitter statement went on to say that it saw “low-level attempts to spread misinformation,” which was “primarily driven by organic, authentic conversation.”
The spokesperson added that Twitter challenges or suspends “spammy and malicious bot accounts before they can ever get to public-facing elements of the service,” including retweets and likes.
And in a blog post earlier this year, Twitter indicated “non-peer reviewed research using our public API can often be deeply flawed,” including those that “make sweeping assessments of account behaviors only using public signals, such as location (if cited), account content, how often an account Tweets, and the accounts it follows.”
But Gideon Blocq, the co-founder and CEO of Vinesight, told The Courier Journal his company stands by its data.
“Twitter is incorrect in their statement that no bots were involved in spreading misinformation in the Kentucky Governor’s election,” said Blocq in an emailed statement. “VineSight’s data clearly shows that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bots spreading information that just wasn’t true.”
Blocq added that Vinesight has “corroborated our findings by using publicly available technology from Indiana University.”
The “Botometer” project of the Network Science Institute and the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at Indiana University checks the activity of Twitter accounts and gives a score based on how likely an account is to be a bot.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin lost to Democrat Andy Beshear by 5,189 votes, though he told supporters at his election night party that he would not concede the race, citing unspecified voting “irregularities.”
The next day, Bevin requested an official recanvass of the vote, alleging widespread fraud and “thousands of absentee ballots that were illegally counted.” Local elections officials referred to the governor’s allegations as “ridiculous” and “flatly not true.”
Bevin has not yet provided any proof for such claims, and spokespersons for his office and campaign have not responded to questions asking if the tweets in questions played any role in Bevin’s allegations.
State legislators have urged the governor to present evidence of fraud or voting irregularities to the public if he has any, as making such claims without any proof undermines faith in the democratic system.
“Any attempt by Gov. Bevin to undermine these results in the legislature is wrong and should be viewed as a direct attack on the democratic process.” state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said. “Once the recanvass is complete, the General Assembly must accept the outcome of this election and help Gov.-elect Beshear prepare for the 2020 budget.”