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Welcoming Twitter's clampdown on bot censorship

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 28 February 2018.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails Twitter's announcement that it is setting stricter boundaries on bots - programs that generate automated posts from multiple accounts. Press freedom predators often use these fake accounts both to amplify their propaganda and to harass journalists.

An estimated 48 million accounts on the microblogging platform are thought to be fake and managed by bots. However, according to Twitter's announcement on February 21, 2018 sending retweets, likes, or follows from multiple accounts simultaneously will now be forbidden. Users will no longer be able to disseminate content from dozens of accounts with a single click.

"We welcome Twitter's decision, as bots are often used by predators to artificially amplify their propaganda and to discredit journalists," said Elodie Vialle, the head of RSF's Journalism and Technology Bureau.

"Such robotized censorship enables authoritarian regimes to silence dissent. Bots are used, for example, to create huge volumes of complaints about posts by journalists so that they are blocked on abusive content grounds. We have also seen how they are used to harass journalists by, for example, automatically retweeting death threat hashtags."

Robotized censorship is a disturbing phenomenon that works against the freedom to inform, and platforms must combat the massive use of automated fake accounts. RSF nonetheless points out that anonymity and the use of an account under a false name is often the only way journalists can share information in countries in which security concerns prevent them from revealing their real identity online.

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