Macedonia referendum: Twitter bots up their activity
September 26th 2018 -- As Macedonia’s name referendum approaches, the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity has uncovered evidence that automated Twitter accounts have swung behind an effort to suppress voter turnout.
The referendum, which requires a 50 percent turnout to be valid, will ask citizens to vote on an agreement with Greece to change the country’s name to North Macedonia. If voters decide to change their country’s name, the referendum will eventually pave the way for Macedonia to join the EU and NATO.
The Transatlantic Commission’s social media monitoring tool has detected an increase in new automated bots over the past 50 days, and an increase in activity of new and existing automated accounts over the past week. As a percentage of national Twitter activity, this surpasses what was observed in other recent elections such as the Mexican and Italian elections.
New accounts (created less than 60 days ago) make up 10 percent of the conversation – a figure higher than in the recent Mexican and almost three times higher than in the Italian elections. The narratives shared by these ‘bots’ are seeking to support the boycott movement and politicians or officials who have backed it.
Members of the Transatlantic Commission also had access to evidence of covert financial campaign from individuals in Greece and Macedonia to support anti-referendum groups.
Speaking after the publication of the latest evidence, members of the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, said:
“There is clearly a concerted effort to thwart the democratic rights of Macedonians and delegitimise the referendum vote.”
“Macedonians alone must decide what future they want for their country. We urge them to make their voice heard this Sunday. The local authorities, together with the international community, must take all necessary measures to ensure the integrity of Sunday’s vote, and that no malign action will go unpunished.”
Contact: Alliance of Democracies media office on firstname.lastname@example.org or +32 473 861762.
The Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TCEI) is a transatlantic, bi-partisan group of political, tech, business and media leaders. Co-chaired by former NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former US Secretary for Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, It seeks to foster a more transatlantic and collective approach to preventing the next wave of election interference.
Members of the Commission are:
Joe Biden – Vice President of the United States (2009-2017)
Felipe Calderon – President of Mexico (2006-2012)
Michael Chertoff – United States Secretary of Homeland Security (2005-2009), Co-Chair
Nick Clegg - Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2010-2015)
Eileen Donahoe - Executive Director, Global Digital Policy Incubator, Stanford Centre for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law
Toomas Hendrik Ilves – President of Estonia (2006-2016)
Natalie Jaresko – Executive Director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, Finance Minister of Ukraine (2014-2016)
Tanit Koch – Editor-in-Chief of BILD newspaper (2016-2018)
Jeanne Meserve – Anchor/ correspondent at ABC and CNN (1984-2011), Senior Fellow at the GWU Center for Cyber and Homeland Security (2011-2017
John Negroponte, US Deputy Secretary of State (2007-2009), US Director of National Intelligence (2005-2007)
Victor Pinchuk – Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist, founder of the Victor Pinchuk Foundation
Marietje Schaake – Member of the European Parliament, Vice-President of the European Parliament delegation to the U.S
Joanna Shields – CEO of BenevolentAI, UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security and Under-Secretary of State (2015-2017), Member of the UK House of Lords
The monitoring tool showed that new accounts (less than 60 days old) made up 12.5 percent of the total number of Twitter accounts in Macedonia. Their activity represented just over ten percent of the total ‘share of voice’ i.e. the proportion of tweets and retweets.
Automated accounts more broadly represent around 12 percent of accounts, and 13 percent of the proportion of tweets and retweets.
At present, the monitoring tool is unable to locate the origin of the interference.
Recent opinion polls suggest that over 70 percent of voters would support the name change, but just under 58 percent of voters intend to vote.