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In the tweet, Bruce Lesley, president of a D.C. based advocacy group, said “Cambridge Analytica is working hard tonight,” pointing out a string of identical tweets that endorsed Cruz.
Cambridge Analytics is working hard tonight for @TedCruz & clearly the oil and gas industry.— Bruce Lesley (@BruceLesley) October 17, 2018
Look at these identical tweets at identical times from various accounts. Not original human responses.
Vote for @BetoORourke & real Texans & not just special interests.#TexasDebate pic.twitter.com/JZZlivswCX
That tweet soon racked up 7,000 faves, going viral in the middle of the debate. The only problem: The behavior Lesley was pointing out has nothing to do with Cambridge Analytica.
The data firm became a boogeyman when it was revealed it harvested Facebook data and used that infrormation to help President Donald Trump target voters in the 2016 election. Cruz also had an association with Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 primaries and was using its data to help build voter profiles.
However, Cambridge Analytica went under long ago, after a string of stories exposing its improper use of data. And the identical tweets being pushed out during the debate were not from a data firm but from a template.
It’s called a tweet template ...... pic.twitter.com/yTD1o07qqX— Jamie Bennett (@jamesleebennett) October 17, 2018
This tweet has more than 3500 RTs and is clearly false. Cambridge Analytica is bankrupt and does no current work. The Ted Cruz tweets being spread are thru an ad template. https://t.co/eczQjtUa0d— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) October 17, 2018
Lesley may have been joking—he did not respond to a request for comment—but the virality of his tweet is evidence of how fast misinformation can fly around the web. People picked up and ran with Lesley’s assertion. It even got shared by a host from Pod Save America.
Others then jumped on.
This is how you attack democracy. There needs to be new legislation that prohibits propaganda and fraudulent tactics in our politics. When the Cambridge Analytics of the world are fined heavily for this it will help impede the misinformation and corrupt influence. https://t.co/gFVaqFeUR3— M.L. Pressman (@MLPressman) October 17, 2018
Ted Cruz called in the bot cavalry tonight. https://t.co/BtS8rV77g8— Greg Sarafan, Esq (@GSarafan) October 17, 2018
Ironically everyone wrote the exact same phrase or is it Cambridge Analytics at work again?? Don’t answer. I know the truth. https://t.co/7PtwdSW49l— Angela Cain💙🧢🌊🌎⚖️🧷 (@AngCain) October 17, 2018
Anyone can use a click-to-tweet function, and while it’s possible some of them are bots and paid, the tweets have nothing to do with the boogeyman of Facebook data.
David Covucci is the Layer 8 editor at the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the web. His work has appeared in Vice, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, Gothamist, and other publications. He is particularly interested in hearing any tips you have. Reach out at [email protected]