It's a preview of just how badly things could go in 2020: the Kentucky gubernatorial race was narrowly decided for the Democratic candidate Andy Beshear, but the monumentally unpopular Trumpist incumbent Matt Bevin will not concede, and instead, he is repeating the Trumpist lie that "voter fraud" caused him to lose his office.
Supercharging this lie are obvious fake Twitter accounts, like the now-suspended @Overlordkraken1 account, which posted hours after the polls closed with "just shredded a box of Republican mail-in ballots" and "Bye-Bye Bevin." Though the account only had 19 followers and though it was swiftly shuttered, a screenshot of the tweet was retweeted by a botnet army, and then far-right commentators started to cite it as evidence of electoral fraud.
The disinformation campaign has also featured bot armies retweeting claims of "rigged elections" and "voter intimidation" (blamed on George Soros, of course!). Mainstream Republican commentators have hinted that the voting machines in Kentucky were hacked (the Republican Senate majority, led by Mitch McConnell, has consistently blocked funding to secure electronic voting machines).
The online campaign has been joined by a robocall campaign that urges people to "report suspected electoral fraud." Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said, "Beyond the routine calls that we field, up to and on Election Day, there are no irregularities that would substantiate a 5,000-vote difference margin that now separates unofficially Governor-elect Beshear with Governor Bevin."
Data compiled by VineSight, a start-up that detects disinformation on social media, showed that many of the accounts that tweeted the screenshot of @Overlordkraken1's ballot-shredding claim appeared to be bots. Their tweets, in turn, were spread by other bots.
Of the more than 3,800 accounts that VineSight detected tweeting the screenshot, at least 2,350 appeared to be bots, based on an analysis of the accounts' activities, including how quickly and how often they tweet.
One was an account that went by the handle @ConservaMomUSA and had both human and bot characteristics. @ConservaMomUSA's post about the ballot shredding was retweeted about 1,300 times, and nearly 60 percent of that traffic was from bots, VineSight found.
Close Election in Kentucky Was Ripe for Twitter, and an Omen for 2020 [Matthew Rosenberg and Nick Corasaniti/MSN-NYT]
(Image: GNOME icon artists and Krzysztof Franek, CC BY-SA, modified)