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EXCLUSIVE: Analysis Reveals China’s Bot Army Waging Digital War on Trump

Bot-style attacks against the President of the United States have increased on social media. The news follows The National Pulse report on suspicious activities by newly created Twitter accounts belonging to China’s “Wu Mao” army.

Today, the National Pulse publishes an analysis of recent trends on digital media, below.

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China already has taken drastic measures against the American media in their own country, banning U.S. journalists and even managing to shift the narrative into a racism debate, often with the help of the same U.S. media they proscribe domestically.

Now, Twitter data collected over the last month from nearly a million randomly sampled tweets shows some dramatic patterns.

We studied tweets between March 12th and 20th, aimed at @realDonaldTrump and including the word “Virus”.

Figure 1

On a basic level, tweets mentioning @RealDonaldTrump and “virus” also frequently included the word “Chinese” & “China”, followed by “Trump”.

Figure 2

The “Chinese-Virus” keyword node (the black bar in Figure 1) emerges as the highest ranked, in turn connected with keywords like “Communist”, “Wuhan”, “foreign”, “awful” and “Italian.”

President Trump’s name is also linked with words like “hate” and “crime”.

Figure 3

Hashtag usage by all the sample user tweets shows words like “coronavirus”, “Covid19”, and “Trump Virus” followed by “Chinese virus” have dominated the platform. This indicates an almost balanced picture between anti-Trumpers and pro-Trump tweeters.

Figure 4

This graph below represents the sentiment analysis.

Indeed, all the tweets seem to be skewed on the negative side, with over two million negatives in all the sampled tweets.

Figure 5

Based upon the characteristics of bots (new accounts with few followers), the dataset indicates an interesting tendency once it is filtered based on this basis.

Profiles created after January 2020 show similar sentiment levels, with 80,000 negative comments dominating the Twittersphere where the virus and POTUS are mentioned.

Figure 6

Amongst these, individual accounts showed a tendency to weigh in heavily, and quickly.

Take for instance the account @rpgdxw – already deleted – which accounted for 221 of these tweets, falling into the categories of “negative”, “fear” and “anger.”

This account – created after March 10th – not only targeted President Trump but also Senators Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, and the official White House feed.

The black bars below (Figure 7) show the activity level against each target.

Figure 7

Some of @rpgdxw’s tweets included messages like:

“@realDonaldTrump People ang human beings are never united. Fake communities like America are never strong. Dead Cotton-Hawley-Rubio-McCarthy-Schumer-Pompeo-CNN-Trump virus fabricated by human beings seen in America must be extinct.”

And…

@realDonaldTrump Rt: Good people say, your “thank you”s are obnoxiously void, given you have repeatedly mistaken the origin of the so-called “coronavirus”, negligently or even intentionally.\n\n Now you have become the virus. You are finished!”

Another user, named @DawnGar83223208, was also activated to attack Trump in March. While the profile was created in 2018, tweets has been peaked around March 15th and swiftly dropped off.

Figure 8

The tweets included messages like:

And…

The list of new anti-Trump accounts goes on, with the following accounts and many more: “yayaly69138046”, “lucky05005650”, “mrsbeccab75”, “MamaDelilahRoo”, “tiffan890669221”, “BennieT53600517”, “H4YTZWp6GqYzkbf”, “mikeLevesque10”.

These accounts not only posted negative attacks against the U.S. President, but also served to further and retweet anti-U.S. conspiracy theories, such as the claim that COVID-19 was created in a U.S. lab:

The same pattern continues with their timelines.

Analysis reveals these users foremostly spread negative messages:

Figure 9

More than 5 percent of the newly created accounts also jumped into using the #TrumpVirus in their tweets, in combination with the standard #coronavirus.

These “Wu Mao” may represent a small percentage of the millions of tweets analyzed, but there can be no doubting there is an orchestrated digital media campaign against the President of the United States.

Many more accounts with similar characteristics are putting effort into undermine the President’s message to the American public, on an ostensibly American-owned platform.

At a time when China is playing white knight to European, African, and South American countries with medical supplies, the narrative is being set to praise China and blame the United States.

When The National Pulse asked Twitter about the bot accounts being used to attack POTUS and the U.S., the social media giant responded: “Platform manipulation — including the use of fake accounts and spamming — is a violation of the Twitter Rules. We take aggressive enforcement action on these behaviors and track the suspensions we make every six months in the Twitter Transparency Report.”

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Wahagen Khabayan

Wahagen Khabayan is a 2020 National Pulse Writing Fellow based in Salzburg, Austria