Trump's welcome to Saudi reaches 'Inauguration-level' on Twitter
If we know one thing about Trump, he is worried about size. His inaugural address at Washington was poorly attended, and this upset him. On the plus side, the announcement that he would be visiting Saudi has drawn crowds of thousands on Twitter.
After it was announced that Trump would be visiting Saudi, the Arabic hashtag “welcome Trump to the nation of toughness” started trending. A quick look on Twitter might suggest that thousands of Saudis were delighted at the prospect of Trump visiting the country, yet the reality was somewhat different.
While Trump has discounted criticism by claiming fake news, most of the fanfare on the hashtag was created by ‘fake’ accounts. Ok the accounts are real, but they’re probably not human, they’re robots.
How do we know? Well, if we we download a large sample of tweets from Twitter, we can see interesting patterns emerge. For the sample, I downloaded about 11,000 tweets from 17th May, from between 3pm and 8.30pm using Twitter Archiver. That’s a lot of Tweets. (Theoretically this is an almost random sample of about 1% of all tweets on a hashtag, which potentially means that the figures presented here should be multiplied by 100 to examine their true scope).
So how do we know they are fake? Firstly, account creation: You’d expect accounts to be created fairly randomly on Twitter, with the exception of big events, which might encourage people to sign up. However, there were large spikes of accounts created on certain days, which suggests some organisation, or code, is creating multiple accounts. In the below graph, you can see spikes in account creation in March, April and May.
As many of the fake accounts appear to use Twitter Web Client (atm it seems less likely that tweets from iphones or androids are bots), the results were filtered to include only those tweets from Twitter Web Client. This left about 4,054 Tweets. For those of you who like diagrams, then below you can see there are three dates that seem disproportionately represented; 30th March 2017, 17th May 2017 and 12th April 2017. It is worth noting that while these three dates are the standout dates, only the accounts marked ‘other’ potentially represent a more normal distribution of account creation dates (likely real accounts). From a closer look at the data, those accounts that represent .6% in the below chart are also bot accounts.
From the original 11,000 Tweet sample, there are at least 1655 unique fake accounts responsible for creating approximately 3800-4054 tweets.
For those of you who like spreadsheets. If you examine these three dates as a starting point to hone in your analysis, you will see that each period pertains to a group of bots. For example, those created between 2nd May and 17th May look like this when put in a spreedsheet.
While this is just a snapshot a number of things are apparent.The names of the account are in both English and Arabic. Some of the accounts have bios, while others do not. The bios, when they exist, are generic, and are in mostly Arabic, English, or erm, Dutch. They are often just bizarre. One of my favourites is of Husni Mukhalfi, who apparently likes “gaming, skating, surfing and talin' with [his] bros..” Oh, and judging by his profile pic, sniper rifles...
The accounts retweet the same things, though not necessarily in the same order. (In the below diagram, you can see screenshots of some of the bot accounts. Note the the same retweets).
4) These accounts generally retweet positive news about the Saudi government and royal family, or adverts for various products, although they also pick up stuff that does seem critical.
Judging by the Twitter feeds of the 608 bots created on 30th March, and the 189 created on 12th April, many of them are advertising bots. Their recent history would suggest that they have been paid to advertise www.laroseshop.com. See, for example, these two tweets from “Shayam Roohullah” and “Cherill Humberto”. (Amazing names by the way).
Interestingly, some of these accounts actually advertise ‘trend’ services and gives a whatsapp number. So maybe if you contact them you can also advertise on random, unrelated, Trump hashtags in Saudi...
Translation: Publish your advertisements on active hashtags. Now: Advertise with us on active hashtags and trends and achieve the best spreading of your adverts and products for the lowest price. For inquiries whatsapp 0546792139 Our pices begin at only 70 Riyals.
So of the sample collected on "#WelcomeTrumptotheNationofToughness", at least one third of the tweets are produced by advertising or quasi-political spambots. I say quasi political because the accounts that tweeted praise of Muhammad bin Salman, or the Saudi government, also tweeted a lot of advertisements. Regardless, the pertinent fact remains that the potential reason for the virality of the hashtag is simply down to gross inflation by Twitter bots. Next up, I will be examining pro Trump/Anti Iran Saudi-based Twitter Bots. Stay tuned for more bot wrestling.