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  • So-called “troll gangs” are paid to target people through hastags and mass postings.

    So-called “troll gangs” are paid to target people through hastags and mass postings. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 March 2017

Automated Twitter accounts have increasingly targeted journalists in what is already one of the most dangerous parts of the world for the profession.

Automated Twitter troll bots posting derogatory messages are threatening protesters in Mexico. Despite the numerous examples of journalists and activists harassed and threatened, the social media platform has yet to confront the problem.

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Back in September, on the second year anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 teacher-trainee students at the Ayotzinapa school, troll bots launched a spate of death threats against journalists. Centro Prodh, a Mexican human rights organization, was warned by trolls to avoid attending protests or they may become victims of violent attacks.

Speaking to Amnesty International, Mexican internet activist Alberto Escoria said that the “troll gangs” are paid to make stories go viral through hashtags and mass posting, which then launches false information meant to discredit and attack journalists. Escoria said he commonly finds up to 3,000 tweets per days generated by each bot.

“It is time that Twitter recognizes their platform has become a weapon in Mexico,” Escoria said to Motherboard. “So many people who have been threatened on Twitter stop publishing critical things online, they stop going to protests, and, even worse, sometimes they stop going outside.”

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Escoria runs the internet activist blog LoQueSigue (What Follows) and explained that he has received numerous death threats, which often intensify after his habitual talks about the bots in his blog and in the media. As of February, Escoria was reportedly planning on leaving the country out of fears for his own safety.

Another victim of Twitter bots in Mexico was journalist Andrea Noel, who tweeted a video showing a man sexually assaulting her by pulling down her underwear in March 2016, adding that women should be able to walk safely. S he was then inundated by troll bots.

According to data collected by LoQueSigue, there were at least 20,000 mentions of Noel's Twitter account in just one day. Bots also tweeted that Noel deserved to be raped for her clothing, threatening her with pictures of armed men and sharing her location.

But Twitter did not take action to protect Noel, just as the platform has failed to take action in the case of many Mexican journalists and activists.

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