May 31, 2017 Last Updated 7:22 am

President’s brain freeze has reporters up at night; Twitter bots multiply, while company downplays fake accounts

Morning Brief: Twitter downplays the apparent dramatic increase in fake accounts, claiming that these are merely new users who haven’t uploaded pictures for their profiles, but investors are noticing and wondering if the company has a handle on its business

The President’s tweets certainly shouldn’t be the big news this morning, not after a car bomb tore through the diplomatic quarter of the Afghan capital this morning, killing at least 80. But if you check Twitter this morning, you will notice that “covfefe” is the top hashtag (at least top unpaid hashtag).

OK, that was cute, the president had a brain freeze, and hundreds of US reporters stayed up all night to see what was up (I was already in bed, with the pillow over my head, avoiding yet another Samardzija horror show).

But the real issue with the president and Twitter — that is, in addition to his actual tweets — is the thousands of fake accounts the president now has, many being added in just the past few days. Some journalists are downplaying the phenomenon — and it certainly would be a mistake to make too much of new accounts that show zero tweets — but the issue of paid for promotion of political discourse really does lie at the center of the whole Russian interference of elections story. I noticed just how much the comment threads of major newspapers were beginning to be dominated by trolls and bots last summer, and futilely tried to bring it to the attention of the news media.

Unfortunately, it is also true that some may be making too much of the story of Trump’s Twitter followers, and exaggerating what is going on. But it IS true that the president has over 15 million fake accounts (according to Twitter Audit), and Twitter is trying to dismiss the whole thing as overblown — and for good reason, each quarter Twitter has to report its user numbers, and all those fake accounts help alleviate the fears of investors that Twitter is no longer growing. It is growing alright, just not in ways that will help it make money.

New York magazine, Brian Feldman:

What’s Up With All Those Trump Twitter Bots? Probably Nothing.

Is this a pro-Putin conspiracy to sow disinformation on Twitter and use a legion of bots to make it appear, anecdotally, as if President Trump has a popular mandate in support of all of his terrible policies? I mean, I guess, but it’s highly unlikely…

…A good reason to think that this is just a run-of-the-mill scammer? A survey of numerous new Trump followers shows that many are also following celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Ellen DeGeneres, Barack Obama, Jimmy Fallon, and LeBron James, and brands like ESPN and CNN — the same types of popular accounts that are regularly suggested to all new users during Twitter’s initial onboarding process. Having bots follow these accounts allows them to appear, to the untrained eye, just like new users who maybe haven’t gotten around to uploading a profile picture. That millions of fake accounts would glom onto the most controversial person on the planet, and subsequently on the social network, right now is hardly surprising. No one this side of Louise Mensch thinks that Russia is attempting to collude with ESPN.

Newsweek, Ryan Bort:

Nearly Half of Donald Trump’s Twitter Followers Are Fake Accounts and Bots

Is the president buying Twitter followers?

Anyone can amass an exorbitant number of Twitter followers. You don’t even have to be famous. All you have to do is pay for them. The comedian Joe Mande currently has a healthy 1.01 million followers, but his bio contains a caveat: “twitter is trash, facebook’s the devil, i bought a million followers for like $400 none of this shit matters antarctica is melting.”

Mande even explained the stunt last November in The New Yorker. “The simplest way to tell who’s winning the Twitter game is by counting followers,” he wrote. “The biggest celebrity accounts—Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga—seem to have millions of followers. But in 2012 I learned that only a portion of those are real humans; some are ‘bots,’ artificially created to boost an account’s popularity. Immediately, I knew that I had found my calling.”

I’m glad the NYT finally noticed the Fairfax Media story happening in Australia. Yesterday, the paper finally told readers of the two US private equity companies that bidding to acquire the publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald. It really is a good story.

I have a feeling that Jacqueline Williams, the NYT’s reporter in Sydney, has been trying to get the attention of her editors for a while now. They have, apparently, been preoccupied. Meanwhile, Amie Tsang, the paper’s London business reporter, also wrote about the bids for Fairfax, including it in her Morning Agenda feature.

The New York Times, Jacqueline Williams:

Australia’s Real Estate Boom Has Wall Street Wooing a Newspaper Publisher

Two large American private equity firms, TPG Capital and Hellman & Friedman, are bidding to buy Fairfax, valuing the company at nearly $3 billion. That isn’t bad for a company that, just weeks ago, said it would have to sharply reduce staffing at many of its newspapers to contain costs.

Australia’s remarkable — and unbalanced — property boom appears to be the driver behind the bids.

“They’ve formed an investment thesis that real estate’s just got a lot of value in it,” Damien Tampling, a partner in Deloitte Australia’s technology and media practice, said of the bidders for Fairfax.

More News:

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The Washington Post: Google’s breakdown of what Americans don’t know how to spell, state by state

Boing Boing: Supreme Court to Lexmark: when you sell something, the buyer then owns it

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