How an Army of Twitter Bots Almost Created a Political Pundit

This fib was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/ podcast .

Tweets from 60 Minutes match Scott Pelleys detail commonly get only a few dozen retweetsat least until Pelley recruited the benefits of Jim Vidmar in late March for an episode about how bogus news spreads. Vidmar, a social media consultant, bought better access to a structure of 5, 000 Twitter bots from a Russian website and gyrated them loose on this tweet 😛 TAGEND

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

And voila: 4,000 retweets within minutes.

Its not startling that Pelley went to Vidmar, who wasted years surmounting the artwork of deploying bogus social media accounts, to get the true fib behind the bot legion accused of bolstering Donald Trumps 2016 presidential expedition. Except for one thing Pelley failed to mention: Vidmars mention is as forgery as the Twitter bots he facilitated Pelley purchase.

Vidmars real last name is Denlinger. He often goes by his wifes maiden specify when talking to the media about traditions that run afoul of the rules of the social media pulpits on which he long has acquired his livelihood.

Amid the scrum of last years presidential expedition, Denlinger attempted to use his own structure of Twitter bots to reinvent himself as an influential political pundit.

In January 2016, Denlinger embarked tweeting from an detail with the manage @PoliticsJim. While that detail was suspended by Twitter a few months later, its tweets now lost down the social networks storage loophole, Denlinger briefly was able to reign the Twitter conversation bordering a handful of presidential primary debates.

An analysis by the social media analytics firm Spredfast found that on hashtags relating to the Democratic primary dialogue Feb. 11 between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, @PoliticsJim had six of the top 10 retweeted letters. During a Democratic town hall the following week, @PoliticsJim composed the most difficult tweet make of the light. For a GOP debate a few days later, @PoliticsJim caused seven of the 10 most viral tweets.

Denlingers tweets typically contained simple image macro memes, primary them to be shareable on their own. Nonetheless, the bots he organized sounded his word to the top of a trending hashtag, a benefit typically reserved for celebrities with vast followings. Top tweets about major political events typically come from politicians such as Clinton herself or high-profile humorists such as Patton Oswalt. But Denlinger had figured out how to activity the organizations of the system, and he was going the bot beckon to the top of the feeds of anyone scrolling through dialogue hashtags.

Denlingers bots had their beginning in a program he developed to help speculators cheat at online poker in the early 2000 s. The platform, which he spoofed together in about a week, searched what was happening on a video poker app and automatically counted placards, dedicating musicians an edge in deciding when to encumber em and when to fold em.

What he needed was a publicity project. If I dont learn commerce to get this in front of the right people, its not going to go anywhere, he said during a phone interview last spring. A mas of parties in the tech manufacture dont understand that thought. They think if they procreate something large and click submit to the internet, boom, theyll be found.

Denlingers insight about his card-counting software contained the grains of everything hes done sinceexploiting technical breaches in computer systems to draw attention to whatever he wants to sell. He claims hes developed nearly 200 cases of software that have sold over 1 million prints and taken on a emcee of purchasers straddling from musicians to businesses.

For example, he detected Twitters official Android app didnt limit the number of accounts you could actively follow per date. Belief back to his poker platform, Denlinger loaded a cellphone emulator on his PC and wrote a write that followed a huge number of accounts at lightning speed 50,000 accounts a date, about one-quarter of which instantly would follow him back. With corporate purchasers looking to pad their accounts with real admirers, Denlinger had detected a money-making machine.

I reached so much fund that year, it was unbelievable, he said.

When the Wall st. Journal profiled Denlinger in 2013 announcing him Jim Vidmarit mentioned the sham, and Twitter swiftly closed the loophole.

In 2015, after selling a pair of startups, a gaming busines called BadgeHelp and online assignment mart MyCheapJobs, Denlinger had time on his hands. A longtime political enthusiast, he gyrated his attention to following in the footsteps of one of his superstars: political commentator Mark Halperin, good known for insider expedition tell-alls such as Game Change and Double Down.

Thats the kind of journalism that I respect, the manner where you cant tell who theyre going to vote for, Denlinger mentioned. I only miss the facts of the case. Thats what Im trying to do with this.

Ive examined so many pundits and so many of these parties at CNN and MSNBC and Bloomberg and all these other sources I get information from, he resumed. I sitting there and listen to the people they drag on that they consider to be professionals and Im like, Oh my god. Perhaps if I got some tending, I could go on some of these shows.

While Halperin wasted a decade clambering the media food chain, starting as a desk aide for ABC News in the late 1980 s, Denlinger insured the current media countryside as eminently hackable. He filled a mass of bots, retweeting everything @PoliticsJim affixed. These bots spread the tweets to their admirers, but even more importantly, they improved Denlingers tweets to the top of whatever hashtag he wanted to invade.

On social media , nothing draws attention like a gathering, and soon Denlinger was in the mix with political pros.

Using another tool he organized, Denlinger identified and followed between 400 and 700 influential human-operated Twitter accounts every day, hoping they would follow him back. Even so, bots predominated the ranks of @PoliticsJims admirers. TwitterAudit found that nearly two-thirds of his admirers were make use of code , not flesh and blood.

Denlinger woke up one morning last spring to acquisition his account had been suspended.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, but Denlinger notes further that the company rarely identifies this type of bot help on its ownespecially when the bots arent patently shilling a specific product. He believes a consumer acknowledged what he was doing and tip-off off Twitter.

He considered starting anew with another detail but scrapped the idea.

If I craved another @PoliticsJim, I could have had one within 20 times, he mentioned. I have 50,000 accounts that are over five years old. I could have brought one up, slammed a few thousand admirers on it, there are still we go, off to the hastens again.

But the experience had been less than fulfilling. Denlinger had shoved himself into the Twitter conversation, rendering hundreds, if not thousands, of interactions on each tweet, but he never divulged through the cacophony: He never reached it onto political talk shows.

I felt like I had done this big circumstance online, but nobody recognized it, he mentioned. No one cared. No one understood it. Nothing.

So he went back to selling. Instead of places great importance on himself, Denlinger has returned to helping others move viral.Bots can take a piece of content simply thus far. Pelleys tweet, for example, has amassed over 4,500 retweets thus far, but simply about 300 likes. The content didnt strongly reverberate with actual human beings.

That resonance, Denlinger mentioned, is crucial. Trump may have over 6 million bullshit Twitter admirers, according to TwitterAudit, but Denlinger reads those bots arent why he became chairperson. And they are not what reached parties pay attention to the at least 325 parties, homes and happenings the onetime actuality Tv sun has insulted on Twitter since announcing his presidential expedition nearly two years ago.

When the Tv bookers came from 60 Minutes , they werent attempting Denlingers political acumen, asking him to be the next Halperin. They wanted to tap into his social media savvy, his ability to find loopholes in a system are exploited by millions around the world.

Now Denlinger is toy that to his advantage: On his website, he is offering a 60 Minute Show Special, a one-hour social media consulting session for $60.

Aaron Sankin can be reached at asankin @revealnews. org. Follow him on Quaver: @ASankin.

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