Devumi and Me: Bernie Sanders' Unexplained Connection to a Shady Media Company
Less than four months.
On October 23rd of this past year, I published an article on Bernie Sanders' social media presence on Twitter. The crux of the article was the simple, undeniable fact that a large portion of Sanders' followers on Twitter were, in fact, bots. This wasn't a conjecture on my part but rather was done via a free website called TwitterAudit that runs algorithms on samples of 5,000 followers to determine their validity. Based on this simple search, it was determined that 61%, or roughly 4.9 million of Bernie Sanders' followers were fake, giving him one of the worst ratios of any celebrity, media personnel, or politician on Twitter. My essay called into question whether the senator knew of this and, if so, why didn't he take any steps to remove his fake followers when it was something that could have been done very easily through a simple, uncumbersome process.
This past week may have provided us an answer to that question.
Last Saturday, The New York Times published an article on a social media company called Devumi, which specializes in the artificial inflation of Twitter followers for celebrities, athletes, pundits, and yes, politicians. By creating fake profiles attached with real photos, Devumi has been able to create as many as 48 million fake users, roughly 15% of the entire Twitterverse. Devumi's nearly 200,000 person clientele include these aforementioned attention-seekers but can also include those buying followers' on others behalf. Of the three kinds of bots most prevalent on Twitter, the one that most would benefit these clients would be amplification bots, those that retweet information or articles about the client in question. These bots would then retweet another series of bots and so on and so on until that article was being spread far and wide over Twitter. By doing this, clients of Devumi could easily expand their influence on social media by spreading the narrative they wanted to be most available to the Twitterverse.
In the week since the article posted, I decided to revisit the Twitter Audit feature to reassess Senator Sanders' social media presence. As of today, Sanders' Twitter profile now has a 61% authenticity rating, an increase of 22% from mid-October. In addition, the number of fake followers from Sanders' account has decreased from 4.9 million in October to 3.4 million today. For those keeping score at home, that represents 1.5 million fake followers that just so happened to disappear from Bernie Sanders' Twitter account at exactly the same time as The New York Times article came out regarding the fake purchasing of Twitter profiles by Devumi customers.
Despite not being mentioned in the Times piece, Sanders has a history with Devumi. In fact, he is featured prominently on the Devumi website which includes two separate articles regarding Sanders' use of various messaging on social media platforms. The first article is by a Devumi employee named John Beckett in August of 2017 and it highlighted Sanders' use of YouTube as being a prime example of how a politician can "upload media coverage of your activities to further establish your reputation." On January 16th of this year, Beckett again highlighted the Sanders campaign this time by posting an article that showcased how Sanders' used Twitter for what Beckett called an "armchair activist" campaign where followers could "encourage the public to show their support through simple social media actions, such as liking and sharing a post."
This revelation comes also comes at a time when Sanders is facing renewed scrutiny for the role of his campaign advisor Tad Devine and his Old Towne Media Company, which appears to be a shell corporation designed solely to benefit Devine. Old Towne Media's shady structure had previously been covered by Slate Magazine in July of 2016 and an August piece by The Observer confirmed that Devine made roughly $10 million throughout the course of the campaign. However as Sanders and his team continue to float the idea of potentially running in 2020, he will receive unprecedented pushback from the Democratic base, who saw Sanders' ugly campaign and inability to rally behind Hillary Clinton as being key indicators that he, like a select group of his followers, would rather burn the country to the ground rather than compromise with moderate and progressive Democrats. Despite that being a popular view among Sanders supporters, 65,844,100 Americans will not forget the way Sanders was a willing stooge in Vladimir Putin's attack on America.
And unlike Sanders' followers, these Americans are real, live human beings that vote in our elections.
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