Twitter still turning blind eye to abusive bots

It’s been one year since I started this column at the San Francisco Examiner, and I’m grateful to have this platform, where my editors have supported me in “following my nose.”

I took a brief hiatus at the end of last year when a hit-and-run driver sent me to the emergency room with a broken hand and foot. Without the use of my left hand and foot, and sleepy from pain medicine, I had time on my hands.

So I did what many people do to kill time: I hung out social media. Specifically, Twitter.

Skimming past the usual news and political accounts, I saw some things that just didn’t seem right. I had the time, so I kept looking.

I saw a profile of a woman, whose avatar featured a close-up shot of a young model’s slim hips wearing an American flag bikini bottom, with a gun tucked in, the barrel poking out toward the sky.

My first thought: “This isn’t a woman. This is a dude.” Weird.

My next thought: “Who the heck follows this account?” The followers were mostly Trump supporters.

These were other accounts with over-the-top expressions of American patriotism, a generous use of flag emojis, references to Jesus and guns, with a sprinkling of associations with veganism, a love for animals and other random things that looked contrived to say, “I have a heart.”

They were also disproportionately avatars of blonde women; when not featuring their faces, they sometimes used other body parts to represent themselves, like close-ups of women’s feet in lucite heels.

“Amy Mek” was one of the loudest.

I wrote about my quest to find out who was behind this account in March and why the account remains active despite the reporting of its almost daily violation of Twitter’s Terms of Use around Abusive Behavior, including the most despicable hate speech toward Muslims I have ever seen.

My original column about Amy went viral earlier this month, and I again asked her to tweet out a selfie with a day-of newspaper to prove she was real. “She” hit back with claims that I was harassing her.

When Ken Dilanian, NBC’s Intelligence and national security reporter, asked Amy if she was a bot, she offered to go on TV to do a live interview with him. I’m still waiting for her to confirm when we can expect to see her face on TV.

As for Twitter, the company has never responded to my inquiries. They seem to have a “bunker mentality,” which, in public relations speak, means they run and hide when the press shows up.

Facebook, Google and Twitter recently sent their respective attorneys to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about what they knew about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election through their platforms, and what they have done about it. (The short answer: They had no idea!) Twitter, by far, came off as the most clueless about the extent to which their platform is infested with fake accounts, designed to spread information and sow dissent.

If Twitter’s monetary value is based on the number of eyeballs that peruse its platform, how hard do we expect them to root out the cutouts? Unlike TV and newspapers, there is no independent auditing of their reach. Twitter’s total number of accounts is … whatever they tell us.

Except when the Senate Intelligence Committee steps, in as a de facto auditor, asking these companies to provide estimates of fake accounts. “We’ll get back to you” was Twitter’s response.

Eight months later, I’m still left wondering why Twitter has taken no action on Amy Mek. The constant violation of terms from this account is so egregious, so there must be a really good reason why she stays.

Amy now has more than 200,000 “followers.” Could her account be in the bottom row of a house of cards? Would pulling her out knock down a whole network and force a major revision of their audience estimate?

At this point, that’s my best guess, because the hate from this account is beyond anything I have ever seen.

Maureen Erwin is a Bay Area political consultant. Most recently she led Sonoma County’s Measure M, which will create the largest GMO-free growing zone in the U.S.

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