Oh Great, Bots are Already Screwing With the U.S. Election

By Rhett Jones on at

An odd thing occurred on the FBI’s Record Vault Twitter account on 31st October, drawing conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. After months of being almost dormant, the bot-powered account started firing out tweets related to various Clinton scandals. Now, the FBI has launched an internal review to determine how its procedures went wrong.

Specifically, the Twitter bot managed to choose this week as the perfect time to remind people about a 15-year-old investigation into the Clinton Foundation and to post the FBI’s file on Hillary Clinton. The first document is the most problematic. It relates to an investigation into the Clinton Foundation and Marc Rich, who was controversially pardoned by President Bill Clinton in his final days of office.

That investigation was handled by then-US Attorney James Comey, who is the current Director of the FBI. No wrongdoing was found on the part of the Clintons but that hasn’t stopped the ever-growing conspiracy mill from bringing it up whenever possible. What’s especially bad about this tweet is that not only doesn’t remind voters of a non-issue, the documents that were linked are only “part 1”. That means the whole “no wrongdoing” thing isn’t covered. What you get are endless redacted pages and the phrase, “it appears that the required pardon standards and procedures were not followed.” Great.

With Director James Comey under fire for announcing an investigation into more Clinton emails just weeks away from the election, the timing of the tweets was perceived by some as an effort to undermine Secretary Clinton’s candidacy. It also came to light this week that FBI agents were pursuing another Clinton Foundation investigation based on a ridiculous book by an author from Breitbart called “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.”

The FBI says that the timing of the tweets is purely coincidental. In response to request for comment, an agency spokesman explained to Ars Technica that:

The problem was traced back to the software that handles automated Twitter posts within the FBI Vault site’s content management system. The documents linked in the Twitter posts that were already queued for posting dated back several months. When the software was updated, the backlog was suddenly, automatically, cleared in a spew of tweets.

Assuming that’s true, the timing is a little less suspicious. The FBI Record Vault Twitter is used for disseminating the files for Freedom of Information Act requests that have been fulfilled. Obviously, a lot of requests related to Clinton would’ve been coming in earlier this year.

In addition to the Clinton tweets, files were also dumped that related to the FBI’s social media policy (lol), David Petraeus compromising classified material (remind you of anyone?) and one that was Trump-related – his father’s FBI file.

None of this should have a significant impact on voters' decisions but it certainly doesn’t help anything. It’s also just fuelling the idea that the FBI has a pro-Trump, anti-Clinton bias, which is surely giving Comey a headache right now.

With tensions high and nerves frayed, the U.S. electorate wants this horrible election to end. The Mirai botnet attack a few weeks ago has made the potential of some sort of catastrophic DDoS meddling on election day all too real in the public’s mind. And the knowledge that major news outlets will be heavily relying on bots this Tuesday to parse data and disseminate robo-stories is just an extra level of anxiety. God, it’s just going to get worse isn’t it? [Ars Technica]