Kawhi Leonard was credited with 1,058,399 fan votes in All-Star voting. That, along with strong showing in the coach and media votes, has the Spurs forward starting Sunday’s game.
But did all those votes really come from human beings?
Graphika sifted through more than 5 million tweets on behalf of ESPN and found all sorts of interesting things about NBA All-Star voting, including 10 hyperactive bot accounts voting for Leonard about 1,000 times per day, a figure that Kelly called “outrageously high.”
And of all the ways you could vote, Twitter, in particular, seemed to be hot for Leonard. For players such as Pachulia, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, a typical account that voted for them on Twitter did so about three times. For Leonard, the number was, per Graphika, 6.46, the highest in the league. More starkly, about 39 percent of the tweets attempting to cast for Leonard came from accounts created since Dec 1, 2016.
And those votes were coming from new accounts with names like @kawhibot.
“If your central question is, ‘Do these accounts look fishy?’ — the answer is unequivocally yes,” said Ron J. Williams, founder and managing partner of proofLabs, a Brooklyn-based strategy and product development studio. “It may be some combination of bots and human-controlled accounts, but it certainly looks like a coordinated effort to game Twitter’s trending algorithm.”
There is no sure way to know whether those efforts were successful in registering actual votes. The NBA screens out suspicious-looking votes, but won’t say exactly how.
NBA spokesperson Mike Bass would say only: “We examine for voting irregularities on a consistent basis and monitor for bots and other manipulations. We have measures to detect improper voting, and any votes that do not comply with our rules are voided.”
What’s certain is that someone was trying to get Leonard in the game. When we began to ask experts whom it might be, many suggested asking [Brad] Parscale. A former Spurs season-ticket holder, Parscale directed Trump’s digital efforts during the presidential campaign from a low-slung building along the 410 freeway in northern San Antonio. A Bloomberg report detailed his mastery of the emerging art of exercising digital influence. The technique focused on using more than 100 people to solidify the positions of likely Trump supporters — and sow doubt wherever influential groups of Clinton supporters gathered online.
When asked in January if he was behind the bots voting for Leonard, Parscale wrote in an email, “No, I didn’t even know Kawhi was up for the award. I have been very busy with getting Trump elected.”
Leonard became an All-Star starter by a 691,200-fan-vote margin. It seems practically impossible these bots got him in.
However, maybe the system is vulnerable in ways that could be exploited in future seasons?
I highly recommend reading Holmes’ full article for a sensationally deep dive into the issue.