New Coordinated Social Media Attacks Against 2020 Democratic Hopefuls May Include Foreign Actors

A seemingly coordinated attack against Democratic politicians may be the work of foreign actors posing as legitimate Twitter users to spread a disinformation campaign against their candidacies for president in 2020.

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At least four presidential hopefuls, three of them announced candidates and one considering running, have been targeted by these Twitter accounts, reporting from Politico noted on Wednesday.

The analysis, which was performed in part by a tech company called Guardians.ai (which aims to protect pro-democracy organizations against such online attacks), found that around 200 social media accounts seemed to be involved in the disinformation campaign. These included “suspicious” or automated users that are seemingly coordinating messages against Democratic candidates in an effort to spread distrust about them among would-be Democratic voters, as well as legitimate accounts that are unwitting helpers of the disinformation effort.

Four individuals who are or may become involved in the 2020 presidential primaries were observed by Guardians.ai during a 30-day period, and were found to be victims of what appears to be a coordinated attack against them. They include Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

Brett Horvath, who co-founded Guardians.ai, explained that the disinformation campaign for the 2020 election period wasn’t just starting, but that we were already in the thick of it. “As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it — we’re already in the third inning,” Horvath said.

The accounts seem to be the same users that the company was monitoring during the 2018 midterms — suggesting that neither Twitter nor federal officials have done much to counter the spread of disinformation in our elections.

“We can conclusively state that a large group of suspicious accounts that were active in one of the largest influence operations of the 2018 cycle is now engaged in sustained and ongoing activity for the 2020 cycle,” Horvath said.

Researchers couldn’t conclusively state where the attacks were originating from. They could be political activists, hackers, or possibly foreign actors trying once again to influence our elections.

Yet the disinformation campaign seems to mirror in a lot of ways what intelligence agencies said occurred in the 2016 presidential campaign, where Russian actors purposely tried to spread distrust and misinformation about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in order to promote the candidacy of then-Republican nominee for president Donald Trump.

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