Bots Suspected of Spreading Tweet Claiming Kamala Harris Isn't Black Enough

A tweet claiming Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris is "not an American black" went viral yesterday—and some believe it was given a boost by bots.

A mass of duplicate messages was pushed by accounts on Twitter after the senator commented on her race during the Democratic debate yesterday. The tweet, penned by a political commentator, said Harris is "half Indian and half Jamaican" and alluded that she was "robbing American Blacks... of our history."

The same evening, the surge of tweets was highlighted by Twitter user Caroline Orr—a behavioral scientist who regularly discusses the topic of online disinformation. Orr shared a series of images which appeared to be sharing Ali Alexander's viral tweet verbatim or pushing a similar narrative.

"What a weird coincidence that a group of accounts, starting with Ali, decided to tweet the exact same thing about Kamala Harris within minutes of each other tonight," Orr noted. "It's everywhere and it has all the signs of being a coordinated/artificial operation."

Alongside images of the tweets, which also went viral, she added: "Efforts to attack Kamala Harris' race have been around for a while but a huge volume of tweets pushing this manufactured narrative appeared tonight right after Kamala pointed out that she was the only black woman on stage."

What a weird coincidence that a group of accounts, starting with Ali, decided to tweet the exact same thing (verbatim) about Kamala Harris within minutes of each other tonight. #DemDebate2

— Caroline Orr Bueno (@RVAwonk) June 28, 2019

A lot of suspect accounts are pushing the “Kamala Harris is not Black” narrative tonight. It’s everywhere and it has all the signs of being a coordinated/artificial operation. #DemDebate2

— Caroline Orr Bueno (@RVAwonk) June 28, 2019

Sen. Harris appeared on stage beside some of the biggest rival candidates from her own party yesterday, including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kirsten Gillibrand.

On stage, in comments that sparked the viral tweet, she referenced herself as "the only black person on this stage" and attacked Biden's political record on race and segregation.

"I would like to speak on the issue of race," she said. "This is an issue that is still not being talked about truthfully and honestly. There is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend, or a co-worker who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination."

In a tweet yesterday, Harris wrote: "There was a little girl in California who was bussed to school. That little girl was me." Alexander responded: "Stop appropriating our history."

As reported by The Washington Post, Harris was previously forced to address her race after memes started to spread online about her heritage earlier this year.

They all largely focused on how the senator spent some high school years being educated in Canada while noting her father is a Jamaican immigrant and her mother is a Tamil Indian.

In March, during an interview on popular "The Breakfast Club" podcast, Harris directly took on the issue when talking about a meme which claimed she was "not African-American."

"I'm proud of being black," Harris told the hosts, as reported by CNN at the time. "I was born black. I will die black, and I'm not going to make excuses for anybody because they don't understand." She said similar tactics had previously been used by opponents against President Barack Obama.

At its core, it was the argument made by Alexander's viral tweet yesterday, which he said had spiked in popularity—and bot-like activity—after being noticed by Donald Trump Jr.

"Her conspiracy makes no sense," he wrote, referencing Orr.

"I tweet something. Don Jr retweets it. Bots following his account steal my content. Somehow... Russia! Now, I'm getting death threats. I'll be sharing these with the Twitter team." Alexander later published a video response in which he elaborated on his arguments about Harris.

The issue of bots—which are typically designed to amplify a message—dominated the political discourse in 2016 in the run-up to the presidential election as analysis increasingly suggested that Russia had been attempting to meddle in U.S. politics using social media platforms and co-ordinated leaking.

A January 2017 report published by the Director of National Intelligence suggested Russia not only used cyberattacks and espionage, but also "paid social media users or 'trolls.'" In January this year, Cnet reported that Twitter confirmed bots with links to Russian retweeted Donald Trump upwards of 470,000 times between September 1 and November 15, 2016.

Donald Trump Jr. did not immediately respond to request for comment. An email for comment sent to Sen. Harris was not immediately answered.

 Kamala Harris
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during a television interview after the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Cliff Hawkins/Getty