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This pro-lockdown ‘bot campaign’ on Twitter may have just been trolling

Despite claims online, it appears trolls may be responsible.

 

Mikael Thalen

Tech

Published Jul 8, 2021   Updated Jul 9, 2021, 9:40 am CDT

Twitter was flooded with countless identical tweets regarding the coronavirus this week, leading many to claim that the messages were part of a pro-lockdown bot campaign.

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The tweets, which were directed at U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, decried plans to ease lockdown measures in England later this month.

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“My brother has just tested positive for covid. The delta variant. He has been double jabbed,” the tweets state. “How on earth can Johnson go ahead with relaxing the rules on the 19th of July. It’s madness. @BorisJohnson.”

The tweets were cited by many as proof that a “bot army” had been dispatched online in an attempt to sway public opinion.

The Daily Caller, a conservative media outlet, surmised that the tweets could be linked to a propaganda effort on behalf of China, while others online argued that the effort appeared to be nothing more than a trolling campaign.

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The first Twitter account to share the tweet, which was made by a woman in England on Tuesday, told the Daily Dot that her remarks came after her 65-year-old brother tested positive for coronavirus.

“I did the tweet as a quick reaction, in anger probably, because of Johnson’s relaxation of rules on the 19th,” Jude said.

But it wasn’t long after that countless accounts began repeating her tweet verbatim. Jude added that she believed the accounts were copying her tweet not in an effort to increase lockdown measures but to make her brother’s story “look false” and actually make any calls for a stronger lockdown look absurd.

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Many of the accounts appeared to originate from the U.K. and featured English flags and football references.

The Daily Dot reached out to Twitter to inquire about the tweets and was told that the accounts had violated the platform’s rules.

“We have taken the appropriate action on these Tweets based on the Twitter Rules against spam and platform manipulation,” a spokesperson said.

When pressed over whether the tweets were part of a coordinated effort on behalf of a nation-state or merely a trolling campaign, Twitter referenced a tweet it had made in August regarding “copypasta.”

“We’ve seen an increase in ‘copypasta,’ an attempt by many accounts to copy, paste, and Tweet the same phrase,” the Twitter Comms account said at the time. “When we see this behavior, we may limit the visibility of the Tweets.”

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https://twitter.com/TwitterComms/status/1298810494648688641

A copypasta is any phrase that is copied and pasted online by numerous individuals, usually in a trolling manner.

Such an incident took place last September when Twitter was suddenly inundated with identical tweets criticizing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s endorsement of Joe Biden for president.


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Progressive journalists argued that the tweets were likely linked to a campaign by the Russian government to influence the 2020 presidential election. In reality, the tweets were simply part of a copypasta mocking the original author of the anti-Dwayne Johnson remark.

It appears that is likely the case with this week’s coronavirus tweets as well. The Daily Dot attempted to speak with several of the alleged troll accounts that had repeated the tweet.

One of the users who copied the tweet, an admitted satire account with the handle @Jed0st, scoffed at the idea that it was a government influence campaign.

“It was just some copypasta,” they said. “People are just taking it the wrong way.”

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*First Published: Jul 8, 2021, 12:37 pm CDT