Study: Twitter attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar are 'manufactured outrage' of a few

A woman looks off over a podium.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar introduces Sen. Bernie Sanders during a rally in Minneapolis on Nov. 3, 2019. A study out this week details how a small group of bad actors started a tweet storm against Omar long before her politics and identity became fodder for the president.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

President Trump has made criticism of Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar a prominent part of his rallies. He's also targeted her on Twitter, prompting others to do the same. But a study out this week details how a small group of bad actors started that tweet storm long before Omar was on the president's radar.

And the study's authors are calling for Twitter to do more than ban paid political ads, as it announced last week. They say this unpaid messaging actually may be more damaging.

“To give you some idea of the influence of some of these accounts, one would expect that if we're looking at Ilhan Omar's Twitter network, Minnesota Public Radio would be a very influential voice. In fact, you're not.” said Lawrence Pintak, a professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and lead researcher on the study.

In fact, there are these other obscure accounts that are tweeting out vastly more content about Omar than your news organization,” Pintak said.

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He found in the two months leading up to the 2018 election 90,000 tweets mentioned Omar, and half contained Islamophobic language. Pintak also found that a majority of those tweets originated from fewer than a dozen accounts, but were retweeted to prominence by bots.

“This isn't a grassroots movement against her. It's a manufactured outrage that is created by a handful of people and then sent out through automated means,” he said.

They can then drown out factual information tweeted by journalism outlets, Pintak warned.

Hear a full interview with Pintak by clicking play on the audio player above.