South Africa: Sockpuppets Trolling Helen Zille Turn Out to Be Nothing More Than a Faulty Analytical Tool


A botspotting analysis using a single, inaccurate tool had prominent South African politicians levelling claims of co-ordinated social media manipulation against one another.

A recent analysis by botspotting service Twitter Audit of the followers of Helen Zille, federal chairperson of the Democratic Alliance (DA), revealed that nearly half of her 1.4 million followers are "fake". Zille accused her political opponents of running these accounts to manufacture outrage against her and "destroy her online".

DA federal chairperson Helen Zille accused her political opponents of orchestrating 'bots' against her. (Source: @helenzille/archive)

Although Twitter Audit is a popular and well-known botspotting service, research conducted in 2014 found that it has inherent limitations that render its analysis incomplete, especially for accounts with large numbers of followers. Its methodology, besides being opaque and undocumented, was labelled "flawed" by Twitter itself.

Twitter Audit should be used with its limitations in mind, and using it as the basis for claims of a co-ordinated social media campaign by political opponents presents a risk of over-prescription. While awareness of automation on social media platforms has drastically increased over the past few years, it has also created a tendency for users to label disagreeable content as the stuff of "bots"....

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