Social Manipulation as a Service – When the Bots on Twitter get their Check marks

When I started DecryptedTech it was to counter all the crap marketing I saw from component makers. I wanted to prove people with a clean and simple way of understanding what a product could and could not do. I also wanted to counter the massive amounts of FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) that was thrown around from different players in that industry. When I stepped away from the PC component market and began covering the industry I worked in (cybersecurity) I continued this, but only in a narrow way. I did not cover the horrible marketing and FUD efforts that I saw on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (now X). Well… now, things have changed. I am not going to just watch the shit marketing and FUD get pushed around so, to quote John Wick, Yeah, I guess I am back. I will be diving into a recent misuse of X Premium in a marketing effort on behalf of a few major studios. (I will get to gaming, cybersecurity, and other FUD as well).

The use of paid persons (Shills) or other quid pro quo marketing efforts to push a product are nothing new. Quite the opposite in fact, as examples of this go way back. It is nothing to give someone, or an organization, money to say good things about a product, service, etc. It is also not illegal as long as what they are saying as long as the “ad” is truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. This last line comes from the US Federal Trade Commission, and it relates to advertising. Meaning a paid ad. “It applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses.”

So, we have laws about advertising, but interestingly, there are only guidelines about endorsements. This means that anything said outside of a paid ad would be a bit of a grey area. It is into this murky world of grey marketing that we are diving today. The pool is the platform formerly known as Twitter (X) and the use of bots, including paid check mark bots, to push many different things, including narratives around companies and their products and services.

Now, the use of bots to push things is also not new. It has a fairly long history of usage on many different social media platforms. What is a “newer” move is the apparent use of bot accounts which have a paid Blue check mark on X in these campaigns. The Blue check mark is supposed to be a method of confirming a person’s identity on the platform. It comes with a cost of $8 for the base account, and $16 for the premium account, and while there are things you must do before you get the check mark, there are also quite a few perks. These perks include, but are not limited to, a boost in your posts and replies.

Over the last couple of years, movies studios have increasingly unleashed a torrent of information on many social media platforms. On X we saw this fall into a few “scripts” which were then just regurgitated across the platform either via post or via a reply to post. In many cases the replies would be on to a post which used a basic form of the same script. We also saw these bot accounts reply to negative comments on products using the same basic post formats. These accounts were typically just your entry level accounts, but recently the marketing minds behind these pushes appear to have started using the X Premium to increase their efforts. They can do this as there are not many obstacles to creating the basic X Premium account. You do not even have an option to verify who you are via government issued ID until you get to Premium+ and then it is not required.

This makes the barrier for entry to a new class of bot or marketing account very low. After all, at $84 per year for a basic check mark when compared to a multi-million-dollar marketing contract, it is peanuts to roll out a few hundred (or thousands) of these accounts. To be clear $84,000 is nothing to a multi-million-dollar effort for a project running in the hundreds of millions.

I can hear the next question, sure we all sort of know this is happening, but where is the real proof of the abuse of blue check marks on X? Well, it might be closer than you think. Over the last six months or so, I have started tracking and commenting (using with a screen shot) about posts which are almost identically worded. These posts, for the most part, have been about Disney efforts (Marvel and Star Wars). They follow extremely similar patterns and fall into a few categories that all seem to indicate that if you do not like Disney’s efforts you are some sort of “ist” or “phobe”. They make big proclamations about the characters, scenes, etc. in particular movies. The replies are filled with people that gush over the original post (using similar language). What makes these most interesting is that the same accounts will reply to each other’s posts repeatedly.

There are several people who have talked about this, but one Twitter user has done a large amount of work to capture the posts and compile the information into a format that makes it easy to see just how prevalent this is. The user is @masterofthetds and in addition to the posts with screenshots, they have put together a few videos about this on YouTube ( Gothic Therapy ). The information is illuminating. This is not because of the use of Bots for marketing, that is old. However, the use of paid accounts on twitter to get reply and engagement boosts as well as to appear less like bots is an abuse of the system and takes the effort to mislead to another level.

To further bake your noodle (lots of Keanua adjacent quotes today), some of the new push started after, or rather increased in effort, after the famous “Go Fuck Yourself” comment from Elon. If you remember this was in reference to Bob Iger making a comment that he would stop advertising on X due to claims that ads were placed in threads with questionable content. This begs the question; is the new increased effort on X a “fuck you” back at Elon? I could see someone suggesting that using X for a marketing and engagement push would be somehow “poetic.” Especially when you consider that many entertainment companies no longer track good and bad interest. They just track all interest, this means that any mention, engagement on a mention, like or dislike on a mention, etc. is rolled into a single statistic which is then used to show investors (and the board) just how much “interest” there is in an item. It is slightly dishonest and scummy, but it is how things are done now.

I believe that there is a significant amount of evidence to show abuse of X’s Premium Blue check mark system. This abuse is not limited to Disney, but they are a big part of it and some of the abuse appears to include an attempt to manipulate the Disney Board’s view of Nelson Peltz. Iger is not foolish, so what we have here is likely the efforts of a marketing company engaged by Disney giving them plausible deniability, at least in the public eye. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot comment on liability from a legal perspective, but I do believe that trying to influence a Board of Directors with less than “factual” information is less than legal, even if pushing an “ist” narrative at fans for not liking a movie is not.

Outside of the ethics and legality of this type of marketing push, I do believe it violates more than one policy in place at X. If Elon and team did a thorough investigation on the accounts that MasteroftheTDS has collected, they might be able to tie this back to a person/persons and from there to a company who knowingly abused X policies. At the least removing any connected accounts would get a ton of trash off the platform (next is the porn and stripper bots). If illegal activities were identified during that investigation, I wonder what larger impact that might have…

Oh, and Elon, you need to do better when it comes to the Premium accounts. There should be more steps to require validation to prevent this sort of abuse.

Anyway… Soapbox put away, for now.

Thanks to @MasteroftheTDS for all of the hardwork in gathering together the many, many, many screenshots which show this abuse in detail


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