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Reform UK Supporters or Bots? BBC Investigates Social Media Activity

Reform UK Supporters or Bots? BBC Investigates Social Media Activity

 

Prolific Posting Prompts Concerns About Reform UK Supporters

An account on X, known as GenZBloomer, has been posting messages like "Vote Reform UK" and "Only Reform UK has a real plan for Britain" every couple of hours since the start of the election campaign. This account is part of a network identified by the BBC, which includes dozens of similar profiles across X, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. These accounts have been posting hundreds of repeated messages in comment threads, expressing support for Reform UK.

 

Allegations of Fake Accounts

The repetitive behavior of these accounts has led to accusations from other social media users that they are automated "bot" accounts, designed to distort the online conversation and exaggerate the popularity of Reform UK. The BBC contacted the people behind these accounts and found a mix of genuine UK voters and others who could not prove their authenticity.

 

Investigating Social Media Patterns

The BBC's Undercover Voters project, which uses 24 fictional profiles to track recommended content on social media, noticed this pattern of comments. These profiles are private and engage only with relevant content, allowing the BBC to investigate what different types of voters see during the election.

 

The GenZBloomer Account

The GenZBloomer account, claiming to be focused on restoring British culture and values, has raised suspicions. Some social media users suggested that it might be based outside the UK due to unusual language patterns. Despite agreeing to a phone call, the person behind the account did not answer when called. The account's WhatsApp profile is labeled as a business account for a "consulting agency," featuring a faceless cartoon figure.

 

Authenticity and Parody Claims

In messages with grammatical errors, the GenZBloomer account claimed to be a "generation Z voter" supporting Reform UK. However, a Reform UK spokesperson confirmed that this profile was not connected to the party. Some responses from the account sounded like parody, adding to the skepticism. After a back-and-forth over text, the account eventually blocked the BBC's phone number.

 

Broader Impact of Alleged Bots

Accusations of bot activity are not unique to Reform UK. Social media users have become more likely to accuse other accounts of being bots, especially in the wake of documented foreign interference in elections over the past decade. Reform UK has seen a genuine rise in the polls recently, which may partly explain the increased online activity. A spokesman for Reform UK expressed delight at the organic growth of online support but acknowledged that some accounts falsely claim affiliation with the party.

 

Identifying Inauthentic Accounts

The BBC identified over 50 profiles that appeared inauthentic, posting repetitive phrases in support of Reform UK. These profiles often lacked identifying features, had no followers, and engaged solely with political or divisive content. Some were based outside the UK and had previously posted about unrelated topics.

 

Genuine Supporters Among Suspected Bots

Not all suspected accounts turned out to be fake. Some, like a user named Martin from London, confirmed they were genuine individuals expressing their political views. Martin, who jokingly accepted the "bot" label, emphasized that he decided to vote for the first time in this election. Another user named Matt from Bury also confirmed his authenticity, stating he was politically homeless and found comfort in seeing others with similar views.

 

Influence of Online Conversations

The presence of inauthentic accounts, whether foreign or domestic, can embolden real people to join the conversation and share their views. This phenomenon demonstrates that individual social media users and anonymous accounts can shape the online debate as effectively as content from political parties.

 

Social Media Companies' Responses

Social media platforms like TikTok, Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), and X (formerly Twitter) have policies against fake accounts and inauthentic activities. They have introduced measures to counter foreign election interference and remove accounts engaged in platform manipulation.

 

Insights from Undercover Voter Profiles

The BBC's Undercover Voter profiles in Bridgend, Wales, revealed how content related to Reform UK and alleged bot comments was recommended to different types of voters. For example, Gavin, a right-leaning voter in his 60s, received content about Reform UK, while Eluned, a left-leaning Welsh Nationalist, saw posts and comments from people concerned about bots.

 

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