Investigative team Sadbottrue has own technologies for data gathering and for meta-analysis of big data. We focused on findings and explanation of anomalies that influence on the tech companies. We are fighting against the social media and advertising fraud ecosystem.
Chapter 30. London, mayor election
The true story
Mayoral elections were held on May 5th in London. Our site, as usual, wondering what was the social media campaign, especially on Twitter. But first, we need to say a few words about the subject of research and methodology.
There is no problem to collect stats and analyze it by conventional metrics. However, such methods are only good for a formal report to the same, the findings based on them can be interpreted in different ways. We're going the other way. We believe that the reader should see the source himself to do the necessary conclusions. We offer to choose from a large data objects corresponding to certain parameters and show them to the reader as it is. We can also pay attention to anomalies, statistical spikes and other unusual phenomena. But all this only for the reader to have seen the source itself.
We do not like the average values. They strongly distort the picture of big data analytics. We believe that the use of each technique must be justified by the objectives of the study, so standard solutions can only give standard answers. And finally the most important thing. All analytical methods should be applied only to trusted, verified data. If your data is a lot of rubbish, what quality can be the results of the study?
Let's count the total engagement both the candidates from the beginning of the year and till election day.
@ZacGoldsmith during the period from January 1 to May 5, 2016, he posted 1050 tweets with the 33 average retweets. His total engagement is 34650 retweets.
@SadiqKhan during the same period he posted 2891 tweets with the 47 average retweets. His total engagement is 135877 retweets.
It looks like a stunning victory of Sadiq Khan on social networks, which has become an important part of the final victory. But in fact, is this true?
Let's see who these retweeters. @ZacGoldsmith was retweeted by 9708 different accounts, @SadiqKhan was retweeted by 24878 ones. This is one more useless fact makes us think that an active audience of one of the candidates is 2.5 times greater.
Let's compare the most active reweeters of candidates.
The most active retweeter of Zac Goldsmith was account @Italians4Zac (449 rewteets). It was registered January 5, 2016. The description is: Official Twitter Account of the Italian Conservative Team supporting @ZacGoldsmith as Mayor of London. This is an ordinary bot retweeter, masquerading as a group of supporters of the candidate. Less than 2% is its own tweets, more than 90% is its retweets. The only purpose for which the account was created, an imitation of the high audience engagement of Zac Goldsmith.
After May 5, he continues retweet the official account @Conservatives, as well as other pro-conservative ones.
In general, this account is very interesting. It involves several anomalies. Firstly, it is a strange fact that a simple bot has among followers 9 verified accounts, and 7 of them are Members of local Parliaments and other conservative politicians.
There is no other reason for this action, but to try to make this account is similar to the real one. This can be called a pseudo-verification when real people, especially verified, follow the bots. This is misleading analytical systems, trying to identify the bots.
7 conservatives who follow the most active retweeter of Zac Goldsmith
@mariacaulfield Conservative Member of Parliament for Lewes.
@nickdebois Founder & former MD of Rapiergroup for 20 years, then MP for Enfield North 2010-2015.
@bobblackmanmp Member of Parliament for Harrow East.
@sianberry Green member of the London Assembly and candidate for Mayor of London in 2008 and 2016.
@davidburrowesmp Conservative Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate.
@GregHands Greg Hands, Conservative MP for Chelsea & Fulham and Chief Secretary to the Treasury in Her Majesty's Government.
@SyedKamall Conservative MEP for London. Leader of ECR Group in European Parliament.
The second interesting fact. Among the accounts that have more than 100 retweets (such as 22), half of them follow @Italians4Zac. Is that some kind of a central account in the election campaign?
Another group of very strange followers associated with the Italian political botnet.
There are 21 accounts of group “Forza, Italia!”, for example, the largest one @ForzaItaliaEU. Interesting, that it is a retweeter of various international right-wing politicians, including @realDonaldTrump. You can see there a April set of retweets of him. Since the account has been inactive for a long time, you do not even have to scroll down.
Another 68 accounts belong to group “Cenrodestra!”, for example, @cdxlazio.
What are these bots? They are retweeters Italian politician and investment banker Guglielmo Picchi @guglielmopicchi. From 2002 to 2006 he lived and worked in London. Having studied the list of followers in more detail, we found another 23 Italian accounts of group Con Picchi (for Picchi), for example,@iostoconPicchi.Another Italian follower is marketing strategist and consultant Marcio B Fasano@ComendadorMBF. On top of all he is the eighth active retriever (184 retweets).His expertise makes us think that he knows how arranged this part of the campaign. We do not know whether he is related to it, but it's not a secret, that's for sure for him. He followed a lot of bots, some of them have such typical names for people as@h0LlSuYVgxNe4bb.Apparently, the Italians played a really important role in the social media campaigns Zach Goldsmith, for 15 and 16 places are occupied respectively@ItalianToriesand@ChrisVinante.
We see clear signs of coordination between the retweeters. How was it possible to coordinate the real people, the official accounts and bots to increase engagement? The answer, as usual, is in the studied subject. Earlier we said that he had his tweets less than 2%. In fact, his own tweet he has only one, and posts it repeatedly, at regular intervals, from 1 per day to 1 times per week.For example, such atweetof may 5.
It is the advertisement of Twitter content management platform RoundTeam https://roundteam.co/. It is created by the Ukrainian team of programmers, who now live in California. This is software with which you can manage a group of accounts, or rather team. You can customize the posting of any content, and retweets, and likes of team members for a given algorithm. Remember, advertising of this application is the only tweet, repeated from time to time the most active retweeter Zac Goldsmith.
How it works you can read here This platform is great to simulate the activity of a small community (several hundreds of thousands of accounts). You can use it perfectly coordinated interaction of real and fake accounts.The creators of the platform denied any involvement in botnet say they do not have anything to do with suspicious services offered quickly boost an audience.But among the 135K followers@RoundTeamalmost impossible to find people. Well, if it was typed at least 1000, it would be good. However, after a quick glance at the co-founder’s followers, such hope is lost.
The second active retweeter is @Bhavikaa_Popat. You should not be misled by the numerous photos of a girl who is supposedly the owner of the account, even photos together with Zac Goldsmith. This account is a bot, exhibiting non-human activity, such as hyperactive retweets. It is deeply involved in the botnet, by following the bots. According to the analysis of the context, its identity is practically leveled. You can put any other pictures and to change the name of this account, nothing will change of the social circle.
Now consider another candidate, who became the winner in the end. @cristinacalgaryretweeted Sadiq Khan 1641 times (57% of all tweets).
The profile picture is a photo of Pedro Sánchez @sanchezcastejon, but its name is cristina velasco, the very strange 22-year-old girl from Almeria. It is the bot of PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Spanish: Partido Socialista Obrero Español).
Yes, in the screenshot of the account, you may notice retweets of Bernie Sanders. All SadBotTrue team members were born in the USSR, and from childhood know slogan:
Proletarians of all countries, unite!
Karl Marx, if he saw such international solidarity of socialists in social networks would be quite surprised. The second retweeter is@ZakRafal(820). Again we see the human image, even with the poster, but in fact, we face the bot. It has similarities with the account@Italians4Zac. It followed by 6 Members of local Parliaments and labor politicians.
@richardhowitt Labour MEP for Essex, Herts, Beds, Cambs, Norfolk, Suffolk. S & D and Labour Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Corporate Responsibility Rapporteur.
@unmeshdesai Labour London Assembly Member, City & East Newham Lab Cllr/Agent,East Ham LP/London LP Reg Board member, Fabian & Coop.
@SteveReedMP Labour and Co-op MP for Croydon North. Shadow Minister for Local Government.
@SebDance Labour MEP for London: Co-ordinator for @TheProgressives on @ep_emissions. Member of @ep_environment and @ep_development.
@CliveEfford Labour Member of Parliament for Eltham and Shadow Minister for Sport & Tourism.
@RCorbettMEP Yorkshire & Humber MEP. Deputy Leader of Labour MEPs. Vice-Chair UK @euromove, euromyth-debunker. My app is Doorstep EU.
The seventh verified account on this list is the journalist @georgeeaton, Political Editor, New Statesman.
We see that the different parties and different candidates use similar techniques to succeed in social media campaigns. Mixing humans and bots, allows you to create community in which it is difficult to identify each account. Since the activity on Twitter in Great Britain is not great, the quality of bots that increase involvement should be high enough. Ideally, they should be incorporated into the human community. Then even the strangeness of their actions will not cause suspicion because they are followed by those we know for sure that they are human.
The third retweeter is verified @LondonLabour (735).
Of the 80 tweets in June only 5 original. Everything else is just retweets. What another purpose in this account, in addition to increasing the simulation of election activity?
According to our methodology, if the account is followed by bots, and more than 90% of the tweets are retweets, this is exactly a bot. It does not have its goals not have its own identity, it is absolutely meaningless to its audience. It turns out that we find ourselves verified bot. Status doesn’t matter, only actions are important, and they are fully consistent with the actions of the bot.
A total of 60 accounts has over 100 retweets, 35 of them are bots (58%).
6 of them are egg bots. This type of no one in doubt.
The entire list of the most active retweeters can be found here SadiqKhanDoc
The bot facts
1. Both candidates use the same fake engagement techniques. For example, the software for imitation of a community’s engagement.
2. Both botnets use the mix of clear bots and automatised personal accounts.
3. The pro-@ZacGoldsmith botnet is related with Italian conservators and a part of the pro-Trump botnet.
4. The pro-@SadiqKhan botnet is related with Spanish socialists and a part of the pro-Bernie botnet.
The sad questions
1. What is the real amount of candidate’s supporters in UK social media?
2. Was fake social media engagement paid officially by candidates campaign budgets?
3. Are those botnets involved in the UK’s EU referendum?
4. Are fake engagement the legitimate method of Great Britain policy?