Report: Scottish Twitter users ‘clear target’ for bots

A new report has found up to 12 per cent of Scottish Twitter activity could be malign amid concerns of fake activity by so-called ‘bots’ or foreign agents.

Users of the popular social media network in Scotland are a ‘clear target’ for hostile foreign agents, says the report, which was commissioned by SNP MEP Alyn Smith.

Twitter. Picture: John Devlin

Twitter. Picture: John Devlin

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Anywhere between 4 and 12 per cent of activity by Scottish Twitter users has been marked as ‘potentially malign,’ with a considerable amount of the fake activity on political issues of Scottish independence and Brexit.

However the report, carried out by investigative journalist JJ Patrick, notes that the social media experience in Scotland is still ‘largely positive’.

The report analysed over 35m tweets, and noted that around 4m of those could be ‘malign bots’, defined as an account aimed at deliberately sharing inaccurate or false information.

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Alyn Smith said that some moments in his political career had lead to concerns that Twitter ‘didn’t ring true’.

He told the BBC: “Suddenly I’ve received a dozen tweets all saying the same thing, with spurious arguments suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere.

“I do not have enough evidence to point any fingers in any particular geographic or political direction, nor does this report, but it does show that there is an issue we all need to work on and that online everything is not necessarily what it seems.”

Mr Smyth added: “We have to be honest too. The levels of abuse have noticeably increased in recent years and as an out gay pro EU Nat I’ll hear no lectures from anyone about cybernats.

“All Scottish discourse is infested by a small minority who just want to crash things and we’ll all benefit from upping our digital literacy.”

Mr Patrick’s report concluded: “Scottish Twitter does have a problem with bots, both malign and benign, and the scale of the problem is quantifiable.

“This does have some impact on Scottish public discourse and there is influence exerted both on and off social media.

“However, Scotland (and its social media usage) remains largely positive with a central focus on living life to the full.”