Many journalists, academics and political figures across Southeast Asia have gained hundreds of new Twitter followers that appear to be bot accounts in the past week, including some with ties to Cambodia.
The accounts were created last month and have since followed hundreds of Twitter users, but most have not tweeted or accrued any followers themselves. They began appearing in large numbers late last week.
Hundreds of the accounts with Cambodian names have followed a variety of Cambodia-based Twitter users, including the Ministry of Education, the Quick Press Reaction Unit, Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Angela Corcoran, the CNRP’s DeputyDirector-general of Public Affairs Kem Monovithya, and dozens of reporters at Cambodia-based news outlets.
Journalists in Myanmar and Vietnam have also reported dozens or hundreds of new followers they suspect are bots, often with names common in their respective countries.
Twitter has long been tolerant of bot accounts, some of which have been shown to spread misinformation, false news reports and politically ideological content, most notably in the run-up to the US presidential election in 2016. In January, the company removed more than 50,000 Russia-related accounts that it found had posted automated content to the service.
Representatives from Twitter did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
In a February blog post, the company announced a series of rules banning users from posting or promoting identical content across multiple accounts, a popular tactic of bot operators.
“To be clear: Twitter prohibits any attempt to use automation for the purposes of posting or disseminating spam, and such behavior may result in enforcement action,” the post says.
It’s unclear whether the new Southeast Asia-based accounts violate Twitter’s terms of service, since most do not yet appear to be tweeting.