New ​Twitter Developer Rules Target Automated Spread of Fake News and Conspiracy Theories

Despite promises and an increasing amount of public pressure, the social giants of Silicon Valley have yet to figure out how to successfully stem the dissemination of conspiracy theories and fake news. Russian election meddling may have started their resposne in earnest, but the social activity in response to last week's devestating school shooting in Florida has proven the ineffectiveness of the countermeasures so far. Looking to clamp down, Twitter yesterday announced updates to its developer Platform terms that aim to reign in the use of automation (mostly by way of its APIs) by bad actors "to perform coordinated actions across multiple accounts."

Specifically, Twitter's updated policies forbid applications from posting "identical or substantially similar content" to multiple Twitter accounts simultaneously or in a scheduled fashion. In addition, Twitter is telling developers that their applications cannot perform simultaneous Likes, Retweets or follows from multiple accounts with the caveat that legitimate applications can Retweet content posted by one account from a "small number of distinct accounts."

Twitter's rules apply to applications that are authorized by users, even if the developer does not control those users' accounts. In line with this, Twitter has also updated its TweetDeck service so that TweetDeck users can no longer apply actions to multiple accounts they control.

Twitter's plan to curtail coordinated, automated activity was announced in January and yesterday's publication of specific terms comes in the wake of an indictment earlier this week alleging that 13 Russians conspired to defraud the U.S. using bots that posted divisive content on social media platforms like Twitter in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. 

Similar bots were also reported to be active following the tragic school shooting in Florida last week, which likely only increased pressure on Twitter to announce the details of its changes.

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