In February 2020, Truthout reported that the official Twitter account for the team of former Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg had posted multiple tweets featuring fictitious quotes attributed to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders praising authoritarianism.
The Bloomberg campaign team had posted the tweets after Sanders publicly praised former Cuban president Fidel Castro for literacy programs and universal healthcare. Although Sanders also denounced authoritarian rule in Cuba, the Bloomberg campaign took the opportunity to post fabricated quotes attributed to Sanders about former Ugandan president Idi Amin, Soviet leader Josef Stalin, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, among others.
In its defense, the Bloomberg campaign said that the tweets were meant to be satirical. But Sanders’ press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, called them a “string of intentional outright lies.”
Twitter announced it was suspending 70 pro-Bloomberg accounts for circulating identical tweets, noting that the posts violated its policies on “platform manipulation and spam.”
Media coverage of the incident appears to have been limited to independent news outlets, including Truthout, the Guardian, and The Hill, for example. Vox covered the controversial tweets, arguing that the string of tweets may have been satirical, but that if one of the posts was viewed alone, out of context, many Twitter users were likely to miss the satirical intent. Coverage by Truthout and the Guardian highlight how the boundaries between satire and manipulation are a grey area when it comes to social media.
Source: Julia Conley, “Bloomberg Campaign Deletes Tweets of Fake Quotes of Sanders Praising Despots,” Truthout, February 26, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/bloomberg-campaign-deletes-tweets-of-fake-quotes-of-sanders-praising-despots/.
Student Researchers: Sina Duncan, Molly McKeogh, Juliana Ockerbloom, Alexandra Shore (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)