Prince Harry and Meghan Markle relaunching social channels
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Investigation of over 114,000 tweets has revealed a coordinated campaign of harassment of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, with just a handful being behind negative and often hateful content. On Tuesday, Bot Sentinel – a “free platform developed to classify and track inauthentic accounts and toxic trolls using machine learning and artificial intelligence” – released a report examining Twitter activity relating to the royal couple.
It found that the coterie of accounts used their combined 187,631 followers to fuel their campaign of negativity – with the analytics service chief suggesting that the level of complexity usually comes from people who are paid for such targeting.
The report identified 55 “primary accounts”, which produced the majority of the negative content against Meghan.
Another 28 users were deemed “secondary accounts”, which amplified the tweets of the core group.
In the report, Bot Sentinel estimates that the accounts have a combined reach of at least 17 million users.
A Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed that they are “actively investigating the information and accounts referenced in this report — we will take action on accounts that violate the Twitter Rules.”
Twitter’s terms of service forbid activity that “harasses or intimidates, or is otherwise intended to shame or degrade others”.
The Duke and Duchess have often decried the online abuse that they receive as high-profile figures.
They do not currently have any social media presence, and neither does their charitable foundation Archewell. The Archewell website is used by the couple to make announcements and statements.
In an interview in January, Harry said the two would “revisit social media when it feels right for us — perhaps when we see more meaningful commitments to change or reform.”
The Duchess of Sussex previously said in 2020 that she had not been on social media for her own “self-preservation”.
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Christopher Bouzy, CEO of Bot Sentinel, which has previously analysed campaigns to discredit the results of the US election in 2020 and coronavirus disinformation, said the hate towards the royal couple was unlike anything he had seen before.
He said the users the report identified were operating “in a more clever way than we would normally see.”
Mr Bouzy added that he believed that the accounts were real humans, rather than bots.
He said: “This campaign comes from people who know how to manipulate the algorithms, manipulate Twitter, stay under the wire to avoid detection and suspension.
“This level of complexity comes from people who know how to do this stuff, who are paid to do this stuff.”
Mr Bouzy told Buzzfeed that these accounts went undetected as they paired negative content about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with positive posts about other royals.
He estimated that 40 percent of the accounts had been suspended by Twitter – but used tactics such as making accounts private or temporarily deactivating them in order to avoid suspension.
When BuzzFeed contacted the accounts for comment, as of this morning four had been suspended and another six had made their accounts private.
According to the news site, one account openly offers to recruit users to an “intelligence agency” attacking the couple.
The person behind the account said it was “for fun” and that “these things are being taken as literal and they are nothing more than jokes.”
Mr Bouzy commented: “These primary and secondary accounts are pushing [hate and disinformation] out, and then it’s being taken over by organic hate.
“You have the ringleaders, then the secondary accounts, and then an outside network that also amplifies and pushes a certain narrative.”
“This is a game they play with Twitter, and they know exactly what they’re doing.”
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