Bot lies: How the anti-GMO movement uses social media to hype opposition to genetically-engineered mosquitoes to rid Florida of insect-spread diseases

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Credit: Rappler
Credit: Rappler
The discussion around Twitter bans is hot, mostly with regard to specific accounts that provide dangerous false information.

But what about accounts that appear to be legitimate users, but somehow are coordinated accounts posting false or misleading information? One false-information source alone is not much influence, and one can be singled out, reported or appropriately banned without consequence.

But does the mass posting of a common false claim from dozens of accounts provide a false sense of consensus where none really exists?

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It’s right from the Goebbels playbook– tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. It works because repetition and the perception of broad support from a number of supposedly independent accounts provides the illusion of truth.

Related article:  Talking Biotech: Can Oxitec's genetically engineered insects combat fall armyworm crop damage and famine in Africa?

This barrage occurred following news that Oxitec mosquitoes were being released in the Florida Keys.

Repetition of a common message from multiple accounts that appear to be independent provides the illusion of consensus about a common theme where none really exists.

This deceptive spamming appears to happen through legitimate accounts. So either these are well-crafted fake online personas, or a careful coordination between individuals in a “phone tree” type of distribution of an identical message. Either way it is deceptive, and the second one is highly unlikely.

I’m going to look at this more closely. My guess is that this all boils down to a common organization that is trying to manipulate public opinion around biotechnology. Stay tuned….

Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow Professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta

A version of this article was originally posted at Illumination 2.0 and has been reposted here with permission. 

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