How Twitter will tackle bad actors like Bell Pottinger and the Guptas

Twitter is working hard and investing huge amounts to deal with the issues of fake news, hoaxes, scams, and harassment on the platform.

The head of global resellers at Twitter, Barry Collins, told MyBroadband it plans to tackle the tricky issue of the platform being exploited to advance the agenda of bad actors.

On the one hand, Twitter was used by activists in places like Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria during the “Arab Spring”.

In South Africa, however, it was used by Bell Pottinger to incite racial division as part of a push to advance the agenda of the Guptas.

During September 2017, public relations firm Bell Pottinger was expelled from the Public Relations and Communications Association in the UK and blocked from reapplying for five years.

The association had investigated allegations that Bell Pottinger was guilty of “exploiting racial tensions on behalf of the Guptas”.

Its motivation was revealed in a trove of leaked emails and documents which Daily Maverick and amaBhungane called the GuptaLeaks.

Bell Pottinger’s goal, according to reports, was to distract the country from the allegations of state capture by the Gupta family.

Reports suggest that articles were planted and social media posts from fake characters created to push the term “white monopoly capital” into the national conversation.

The company succeeded, dressing up language intended to stoke racial tensions in a narrative about economic emancipation.

Abusing the platform

Collins said that addressing the use of Twitter in the way Bell Pottinger used the platform is a complicated question.

Twitter is a platform built around freedom of speech and it wants to hold true to that.

“But there is an obligation on us to control the health of the conversation, so that people are seeing all parts of the conversation in a fair way,” said Collins.

He said that Twitter is trying to bring more balance to the platform, while prioritising views from credible sources.

The idea is that when you search for a topic, views from subject matter experts will come to the top – and posts from accounts with suspicious activity are de-ranked in a timeline.

Collins said Twitter is trying to ensure it gives an unbiased view of a discussion, and issued a request for proposals for a partner to work with to get this right.

“From an engineering perspective, that’s one of our top priorities – not us taking control or censoring content, but balancing it,” said Collins.

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How Twitter will tackle bad actors like Bell Pottinger and the Guptas