Categoria: 2024 Elections

Thousands Of Pro-Trump Bots Are Attacking Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley


WASHINGTON — Over the past 11 months, someone created thousands of fake, automated Twitter accounts — perhaps hundreds of thousands of them — to offer a stream of praise for Donald Trump.

Besides posting adoring words about the former president, the fake accounts ridiculed Trump’s critics from both parties and attacked Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador who is challenging her onetime boss for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

When it came to Ron DeSantis, the bots aggressively suggested that the Florida governor couldn’t beat Trump, but would be a great running mate.

As Republican voters size up their candidates for 2024, whoever created the bot network is seeking to put a thumb on the scale, using online manipulation techniques pioneered by the Kremlin to sway the digital platform conversation about candidates while exploiting Twitter’s algorithms to maximize their reach.

The sprawling bot network was uncovered by researchers at Cyabra, an Israeli tech firm that shared its findings with The Associated Press. While the identity of those behind the network of fake accounts is unknown, Cyabra’s analysts determined that it was likely created within the U.S.

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To identify a bot, researchers will look for patterns in an account’s profile, its follower list and the content it posts. Human users typically post about a variety of subjects, with a mix of original and reposted material, but bots often post repetitive content about the same topics.

That was true of many of the bots identified by Cyabra.

“One account will say, ‘Biden is trying to take our guns; Trump was the best,’ and another will say, ‘Jan. 6 was a lie and Trump was innocent,’” said Jules Gross, the Cyabra engineer who first discovered the network. “Those voices are not people. For the sake of democracy I want people to know this is happening.”

Bots, as they are commonly called, are fake, automated accounts that became notoriously well-known after Russia employed them in an effort to meddle in the 2016 election. While big tech companies have improved their detection of fake accounts, the network identified by Cyabra shows they remain a potent force in shaping online political discussion.

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The new pro-Trump network is actually three different networks of Twitter accounts, all created in huge batches in April, October and November 2022. In all, researchers believe hundreds of thousands of accounts could be involved.

The accounts all feature personal photos of the alleged account holder as well as a name. Some of the accounts posted their own content, often in reply to real users, while others reposted content from real users, helping to amplify it further.

“McConnell… Traitor!” wrote one of the accounts, in response to an article in a conservative publication about GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, one of several Republican critics of Trump targeted by the network.

One way of gauging the impact of bots is to measure the percentage of posts about any given topic generated by accounts that appear to be fake. The percentage for typical online debates is often in the low single digits. Twitter itself has said that less than 5% of its active daily users are fake or spam accounts.

When Cyabra researchers examined negative posts about specific Trump critics, however, they found far higher levels of inauthenticity. Nearly three-fourths of the negative posts about Haley, for example, were traced back to fake accounts.

The network also helped popularize a call for DeSantis to join Trump as his vice presidential running mate — an outcome that would serve Trump well and allow him to avoid a potentially bitter matchup if DeSantis enters the race.

The same network of accounts shared overwhelmingly positive content about Trump and contributed to an overall false picture of his support online, researchers found.

“Our understanding of what is mainstream Republican sentiment for 2024 is being manipulated by the prevalence of bots online,” the Cyabra researchers concluded.

The triple network was discovered after Gross analyzed Tweets about different national political figures and noticed that many of the accounts posting the content were created on the same day. Most of the accounts remain active, though they have relatively modest numbers of followers.

A message left with a spokesman for Trump’s campaign was not immediately returned.

Most bots aren’t designed to persuade people, but to amplify certain content so more people see it, according to Samuel Woolley, a professor and misinformation researcher at the University of Texas whose most recent book focuses on automated propaganda.

When a human user sees a hashtag or piece of content from a bot and reposts it, they’re doing the network’s job for it, and also sending a signal to Twitter’s algorithms to boost the spread of the content further.

Bots can also succeed in convincing people that a candidate or idea is more or less popular than the reality, he said. More pro-Trump bots can lead to people overstating his popularity overall, for example.

“Bots absolutely do impact the flow of information,” Woolley said. “They’re built to manufacture the illusion of popularity. Repetition is the core weapon of propaganda and bots are really good at repetition. They’re really good at getting information in front of people’s eyeballs.”

Until recently, most bots were easily identified thanks to their clumsy writing or account names that included nonsensical words or long strings of random numbers. As social media platforms got better at detecting these accounts, the bots became more sophisticated.

So-called cyborg accounts are one example: a bot that is periodically taken over by a human user who can post original content and respond to users in human-like ways, making them much harder to sniff out.

Bots could soon get much sneakier thanks to advances in artificial intelligence. New AI programs can create lifelike profile photos and posts that sound much more authentic. Bots that sound like a real person and deploy deepfake video technology may challenge platforms and users alike in new ways, according to Katie Harbath, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Facebook public policy director.

“The platforms have gotten so much better at combating bots since 2016,” Harbath said. “But the types that we’re starting to see now, with AI, they can create fake people. Fake videos.”

These technological advances likely ensure that bots have a long future in American politics — as digital foot soldiers in online campaigns, and as potential problems for both voters and candidates trying to defend themselves against anonymous online attacks.

“There’s never been more noise online,” said Tyler Brown, a political consultant and former digital director for the Republican National Committee. “How much of it is malicious or even unintentionally unfactual? It’s easy to imagine people being able to manipulate that.”

Nikki Haley Announces Presidential Campaign, Challenging Donald Trump


CHARLESTON, S.C. — Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, announced her candidacy for president on Tuesday, becoming the first major challenger to former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination.

The announcement, delivered in a tweeted video, marks an about-face for the ex-Trump Cabinet official, who said two years ago that she wouldn’t challenge her former boss for the White House in 2024. But she changed her mind in recent months, citing, among other things, the country’s economic troubles and the need for “generational change,” a nod to the 76-year-old Trump’s age.

“You should know this about me. I don’t put up with bullies. And when you kick back, it hurts them more if you’re wearing heels,” Haley said. “I’m Nikki Haley, and I’m running for president.”

Get excited! Time for a new generation.

Let’s do this! 👊 🇺🇸

— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 14, 2023

Haley, 51, is the first in a long line of Republicans who are expected to launch 2024 campaigns in the coming months. Among them are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

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President Joe Biden has said he intends to seek reelection in 2024, stalling any jostling for the Democratic nomination.

Haley has regularly boasted about her track record of defying political expectations, saying, “I’ve never lost an election, and I’m not going to start now.”

If elected, Haley would be the nation’s first female president and the first U.S. president of Indian descent.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley grew up enduring racist taunts in a small South Carolina town and has long referenced that impact on her personal and political arc.

In the three-and-a-half minute video, Haley referenced that past, saying she grew up “not Black, not white — I was different.”

Haley never mentions Trump by name in the video, instead saying “the Washington establishment has failed us over and over and over again,” Haley leans into a call for “a new generation of leadership,” which has become the refrain of her messaging leading up to the launch.

She was an accountant when she launched her first bid for public office, defeating the longest-serving member of the South Carolina House in 2004. Three terms later and with little statewide recognition, Haley mounted a long-shot campaign for governor against a large field of experienced politicians.

She racked up a number of high-profile endorsements, including from the sitting South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a tea party darling.

With her 2010 victory, Haley became South Carolina’s first female and minority governor — and the nation’s youngest at 38. She earned a speaking slot at the 2012 Republican National Convention and gave the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union in 2016.

The defining moment of Haley’s time as governor came after the 2015 murders of nine Black parishioners in a Charleston church by a self-avowed white supremacist who had been pictured holding Confederate flags.

For years, Haley had resisted calls to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, even casting a rival’s push for its removal as a desperate stunt. But after the massacre and with the support of other leading Republicans, Haley advocated for legislation to remove the flag. It came down less than a month after the murders.

In the 2016 presidential primary, Haley was an early supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, later shifting to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. She ultimately said she would back the party’s nominee.

Shortly after Trump’s victory, he tapped Haley to be his U.N. ambassador, a move that rewarded Henry McMaster, the lieutenant governor who was the nation’s first statewide elected official to back Trump’s 2016 campaign. Haley’s departure cleared the way for McMaster to ascend to the governorship he had sought, since losing a bruising primary to none other than Haley seven years earlier.

With her Senate confirmation, Haley became the first Indian American in a presidential Cabinet.

During her nearly two-year tenure, Haley feuded at times with other administration officials while bolstering her own public persona.

One of her most memorable moments as U.N. ambassador came in 2018 after National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow suggested Haley had suffered “momentary confusion” when she said Russian sanctions were imminent.

“With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” she responded. The first half of the quote became the title of her 2019 memoir.

Her departure from the job later that year fueled speculation that she would challenge Trump in 2020 or replace Pence on the ticket. She did neither.

Instead, Haley returned to South Carolina, where she bought a home on the wealthy enclave Kiawah Island, joined the board of aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co., launched herself on the speaking circuit and wrote two books, including the memoir.

After the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, Haley initially cast doubts on Trump’s political future but said she wouldn’t challenge him in 2024. She later shifted course, citing inflation, crime, drugs and a “foreign policy in disarray” among her reasons for considering a White House campaign.

During his South Carolina stop last month, Trump told WIS-TV that Haley had called to seek his opinion on running for president. Trump pointed out her earlier pledge not to run against him but said he made no attempts to stop her.

“She said she would never run against me because I was the greatest president, but people change their opinions, and they change what’s in their hearts,” Trump said. “So I said, if your heart wants to do it, you have to go do it.”

Who Should Be The Next President? Democrats, Republicans Struggle To Decide


WASHINGTON — While President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, are preparing for a possible rematch in 2024, a new poll finds a notable lack of enthusiasm within the parties for either man as his party’s leader and a clear opening for new standard-bearers.

About a third of both Democrats and Republicans are unsure of who they want leading their party, according to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

No single Democrat captures significant support when asked who should be their party’s leader; instead, Democrats sprinkle their attention across more than a dozen politicians. Yet they also feel more hopeful than dejected about their party. Some Republicans, meanwhile, coalesce around a couple of individuals — Trump included. But a majority remain uncommitted to him despite his grip on the party, and Republicans have grown somewhat more pessimistic about the GOP’s future.

The findings reflect a deep sense of uncertainty about the future of the nation’s political parties and the challenges both face in tethering their frayed — and perhaps disenchanted — coalitions.

For Democrats, it’s another warning sign about the depth of Biden’s support amid concerns about nominating someone who would be 86 at the end of a second term.

“He’s certainly at an age where he’s not going to run for office, he’s gonna walk,” said David Townsend, a 58-year-old veteran services manager in Indianapolis who leans toward the Democratic Party.

Townsend said he would support Biden if he were the nominee, but he wants a new voice to lead with vigor and energy. He suggests Biden could have a role in shaping the future.

“He needs to be on the lookout for a standard-bearer, someone that could carry his message forward,” Townsend said.

Despite his status as an incumbent president who has accomplished many of the party’s long-sought priorities, fewer than half of Democrats — 41% — identify Biden as the current leader of the party in an open-ended question. Just 12% said they want Biden in the role.

But Democrats are far from rallying behind someone else. They lack consensus on one individual — or even two or three — to lead them. Instead, in the open-ended question, 15 people are each mentioned by between 1% and 5% of Democrats. Thirty-seven percent say they don’t know or don’t answer the question.

By contrast, among Republicans, 22% name Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and 20% name Trump as the individual they want to lead the party.

Republican Daniel Alvarez, 30, of Lakeland, Florida, likes both his governor, DeSantis, and Trump.

“I would preferably take either one of those guys,” said Alvarez, a lineman for a telephone company. But if it came down to it, he’d choose Trump in a primary.

“The country was better” when Trump was president, he said.

Still, there appears to be openness to a new face among Republicans, as there is among Democrats, even if there isn’t someone specific in mind.

A majority of Republicans don’t choose Trump or DeSantis, though no other individual comes close to their level of support. Eleven others — including former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who launched her 2024 bid Tuesday — are each named by just 1% of Republicans.

Angela Foster became emotional talking about how she feels the country is going in the wrong direction under Biden’s leadership. The 66-year-old Republican-leaning independent voted for Trump in 2020.

“I would love to see Trump back in the Oval Office to straighten things up. Followed by DeSantis. That’s what I want. I want an eight-year plan,” she said with a laugh.

But Foster, who lives in Gallipolis, Ohio, and works part-time as a cashier, said she wants to see the Republican Party get back to its traditional values and quit the infighting.

Only 38% of Republicans say they are optimistic about the future of the Republican Party, while 36% are pessimistic and 24% say they feel neither. Pessimism has grown since October, when 27% said they were.

By comparison, more Democrats look ahead with hope. Forty-four percent of Democrats say they are optimistic about the future of the Democratic Party, while 26% are pessimistic. An additional 30% say they are neither.

Republicans who are pessimistic are less likely than optimistic ones to name a chosen leader. Overall, 34% of Republicans — more than either Trump or DeSantis get individually — say they don’t know or didn’t respond to the question.

Hugh Lawing considers himself an independent who leans toward the Republican Party. He doesn’t want Trump to run and isn’t sure about DeSantis, who he said “wants to be “Trump Jr.” The 59-year-old retiree in Marietta, Georgia, hopes that more options will come forward.

“It’s a long way away and it’s up in the air,” Lawing said.

For Democrats, there’s no shortage of options, including lawmakers and others unlikely to seek the nomination. Trailing Biden at 12% as the preferred leader, new House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez each earn 5%.

Greg Davis, 34, voted for Biden in the 2020 general election. But as a self-identified social Democrat, he was “not impressed” with Biden during the primary campaign and would prefer a progressive candidate.

“I would rather he not,” the Hilliard, Ohio resident said of Biden running for reelection. “But I don’t really have a specific candidate in mind.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and even former President Barack Obama are each named as the preferred party leader by 3% of Democrats.

“I can’t admire that man enough,” Darlene Zwolinski said of Obama.

Zwolinski, a 63-year-old acupuncturist in Lakewood, Colorado, said she’s happy with what Biden has done, but he was mainly the one “to get the win” against Trump and, for that reason, might have to be the one again.

“If there was somebody in the wings that was like (Obama) that could step in, I would love to see Biden bless that person and maybe graciously bow out,” she said. “However, I don’t see anybody right now.

The poll of 1,068 adults was conducted Jan. 26-30 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.