They are accounts on Twitter – the messaging platform in which users write, read, approve or forward short messages called tweets – that focus on a particular viewpoint and act with a regularity that seems robotic.
Twitter bots are a feature of the messaging service around the world, from China to Russia to America.
A key bot characteristic is a Twitter account that uses a fake name and no picture. The real message sender is unknown. Not everyone who behaves in a deplorable way on Twitter is anonymous. Some of the most aggressive users are open about who they are, but at least such people are traceable if they over-step the mark. There is a serious problem with abusive cowards who hide their identity, perhaps to make sexist or racist or otherwise cruel personal remarks.
In Northern Ireland, there is a large and notorious group of abusive republican bots. While republicans are not, of course, the only abusive online faction, and while many people of a republican outlook are never abusive, there is no equivalently pervasive body of bots that seems so organised.
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As Richard Garland observes opposite (in the print edition, see also link below), they taunt IRA victims including Ann Travers, Anne Graham and Aileen Quinton, and Mairia Cahill, who was sexually abused by a paramilitary.
They also descend like packs on unionist voices, often young ones, accusing them of bigotry in a ceaseless barrage of tweets. Yet these self appointed judges of what constitutes bigotry are some of the most fanatical and sectarian people around. If their politics was ‘far right’, there would be calls for a public inquiry into them, there would be documentaries about them, and demands for laws to tackle them.
They are themselves ultra nationalists, and thus hypocrites.
Victims or unionists or other groups who dare to continue to speak out despite the psychological harassment of these thugs need moral support, as Richard Garland writes.
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