Inauthentically Boosting Content to Trending Sections of Social Media Sites

On social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, users are able to view topics or hashtags which are “trending” at that moment (i.e. a lot of people are discussing them):

This example image shows a section of the Twitter app which presents trends. You can tell this mockup was made by a PR team because none of the trends are problematic or aggressive. I mean “Collaboration” trending in the United States of all places? Come on now, let’s have some attempt at realism.

Aggressors who want to engineer discussion around a topic beneficial to their cause can use inauthentic methods to get them trending, such as getting a bot to talk about a topic lots of times in quick succession, or collaborating with other real-world users to post about a topic at the same time. This is useful because:

  • Topics can appear more popular than they actually are.
  • Topics can be exposed to users which otherwise wouldn’t be.
    • The probability that an aggressor will succeed in adding to the amount of who people believe their narrative increases based on how many are exposed to it. Let’s imagine a piece of disinformation about coronavirus which has a 1% chance of tricking the average human person who reads it; if I manage to expose 100 people to that ‘strain’ of disinformation, then statistically I am likely to successfully mislead at least 1 person. The more people who see the content, the more chances I find a lucky 1%-er.


Objective: Engineer public narrative around a desired topic
Tactic: Inauthentically boost content on Social Media so that it appears in the “trending” section for other users of the platform.
Associated Methods:

  • Amplification via Coordinated User Action
  • Amplification via Bot Accounts
  • Amplification via Hacked Legitimate Accounts

Further Reading:

  • Tek Fog: An App With BJP Footprints for Cyber Troops to Automate Hate, Manipulate Trends
    • Insiders using the Tek Fog app revealed one of its’ primary functions was to hijack trending sections of Facebook and Twitter. The authors show screenshots of the app, and detail how the confirmed its functionality.
  • #KeepPrisonsSingleSex: How botnets pushed a hashtag to Westminster by Rachel Muller-Heyndyk and Joe Ondrak on 24 Jan 2022
    • Quotes: “A Logically investigation has uncovered evidence of a Twitter botnet promoting the hashtag #KeepPrisonsSingleSex […] One of the tweets […] read out to the House of Lords was artificially boosted by accounts Logically identified as being connected to the botnet.”“In the case of this investigation, the finding remains the same even if the some of the accounts that were influential on Monday were human; their behaviour was coordinated and deliberately inauthentic, and done so to achieve a specific platform response.”
  • Like a virus; The coordinated spread of coronavirus disinformation by by Timothy Graham, Axel Bruns, Guangnan Zhu and Rod Bampbell in May 2020
    • This research paper looks at a variety of different groups of bot accounts and assesses potential motivations for the bot activity (but doesn’t strictly talk about getting content to the ‘trending’ section).