Apr 21, 2016 4:51 PM

Trump's Twitter provokes huge following, trouble

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) Donald Trump says there's genius in his tweets, but his wife wishes he would stop.

Melania Trump was asked Thursday on NBC's "Today" show what habit she wishes he would give up. "Let's see," she said, pausing. "The tweeting."

Trump's approach to Twitter has been as unorthodox as his presidential campaign: unpredictable and unfiltered, sometimes brilliant and occasionally typographically challenged. He has celebrated the support of scores of accounts on the social media service that appear almost solely dedicated to him.

But Trump's habit has also come with collateral damage mostly because of the billionaire's penchant for elevating the comments of his fans to his 7.7 million followers, oftentimes without apparent concern for the source.

He has twice cited an account called WhiteGenocideTM, and just a week ago, he quoted a message from an account with a user name that alluded to masturbation. Many of the accounts with which he interacts use hazy identities or images of models widely circulated on the internet.

Whoever these mysterious users are, they sometimes provide Trump with information that migrates into his social media assertions, campaign speeches and media interviews.

A few cases in point:

After Donald Trump was attacked for low poll numbers among women, he retweeted a supporter noting that he is supported by 15,000 women's groups.

To demonstrate grass-roots opposition to the Republican delegate selection process, he cited a backer who described 1 million protest messages on postcards that had been sent to the Republican National Committee.

After a man rushed the stage at a Michigan Trump rally, Trump repeated on television a follower's assertion that the man had ties to the Islamic State group.

To dispel the suggestion that he didn't treat women as equals, he retransmitted a supporter's statement that the Trump Organization's executives are predominantly female.

There is no evidence bearing out any of these claims.

A spokeswoman for Trump's campaign declined immediately to answer the AP's questions about Trump's Twitter activity.

One common theme for a mention, quote or retweet appears to be praise for Trump or harsh words for his rivals. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is one of the most prominent current targets.

One such infamous retweet was a meme mocking Heidi Cruz's appearance in comparison to a photo of glamorous Melania Trump. The tweet originated from a user named Don_Vito_08, who tweets as many as 23 self-generated Trump memes an hour.

In the days afterward, Trump acknowledged that retweeting the photo was a mistake and conceded that his retweeting could get him in trouble.

But as recently as Tuesday, he reposted comments from an account describing the user as a "neo-Boer," a reference to the white South Africans who ruled during racial apartheid. Other accounts Trump has elevated include ones claiming to be end-times believers, researchers of time travel and a man who says he was devoted to the mystical significance of the number 11.

Some of the accounts have a substantial track record of tweets bearing the hallmarks of accounts that are programmed to post tweets automatically commonly known as bots.

Trump opponents and Twitter sleuths have noted commonalities among some of the most prolific accounts, such as years of dormancy, the absence of non-Trump material and account creation dates within minutes or even seconds of each other.

Patrick Ruffini, a Washington politics and media consultant opposing Trump, published an analysis of 465 followers of Trump on Twitter that had encouraged people to report unwanted Ted Cruz campaign phone messages to the Federal Communications Commission. Many of the accounts appeared to have a sideline promoting business-to-business social media software, or in some instances pornography.

Ruffini said a small group of Trump supporters was combining automated tweets with human-generated content to exaggerate Trump's support online. Accounts that Ruffini suspected of involvement began posting mocking messages at him, which gave way to a harassing wave of pornography.

"If you're trying to make the argument that you're genuine, it's not helpful that I'm getting these coordinated attacks," Ruffini told The Associated Press.

But some prolific pro-Trump accounts that have been questioned are run by flesh-and-blood owners.

Victoria Gray runs one. The AP reached Gray at her home in small-town North Carolina, where she has lived for many years.

Gray uses Twitter for "eight hours a day, maybe longer," she told AP, posting sometimes hundreds of tweets promoting Trump and questioning his rivals. Currently, Cruz is chief among them. Gray said she believes Cruz, a naturalized U.S. citizen at birth whose mother was American, is not a U.S. citizen because he was born in Canada.

"This has been the first time I can remember that I really needed to get involved heavily in something, and now that I'm retired, I can," she said.

Even Twitter appears to have been surprised by her dedication.

"I've had my account shut down twice in the last month by Twitter, thinking it was automated," she said. The company reactivated the account both times after requiring her to confirm she was a real person via phone call.


Follow Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JeffHorwitz and https://twitter.com/ChadSDay


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