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Far-right Twitter accounts amplify conspiracy about Kamala Harris during debate
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) dominated buzz surrounding the first Democratic presidential debate Thursday night after battling rivals on stage, but as the debate played out, a series of Twitter accounts worked to amplify a far-right conspiracy about her online.
During the debate in Miami, Trumpworld personalities and apparent bots online amplified conspiracy theories on social media falsely claiming that the California Democrat, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent, is not black and is not a U.S. citizen.
"Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I'm so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It's disgusting. Now using it for debate time at #DemDebate2? These are my people not her people. Freaking disgusting," Ali Alexander, a Trump-world personality, tweeted.
The tweet was retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., who ultimately removed the message from his page. However, Alexander's tweet was soon copied word for word by a network of bot accounts researcher Josh Russell had previously identified.
Social media researcher Caroline Orr noted that a number of "suspect accounts" highlighted similar claims after Harris's debate appearance.
"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," she tweeted after the debate.
The Harris campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill about the Thursday night tweets.
Twitter denied that bots had circulated the theories, saying organic users were behind the conspiracies.
"Reports of malicious automation and 'bots' are false. We've see no coordinated activity around the debates, or this particular content. It is organic users sharing these views, much of which is not in violation of our policies. Any accounts which violate our policies at the content level have been actioned in accordance with the Twitter Rules," a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill.
Former President Obama was subjected to racist conspiracy theories throughout his White House tenure that he was born in Kenya, instead of Hawaii. The White House released his long-form birth certificate in 2011 in an effort to combat the conspiracy theories.
"Seeing the tweets declaring that Kamala isn't black enough because her parents are from Jamaica and India, I had an immediate flashback to the 2008 campaign," Shauna Daly, a former Obama campaign staffer who led the fight against birtherism claims against him on his campaign, told BuzzFeed News.
Harris has herself acknowledged such conspiracies targeting her in the past, saying in a February radio interview, "This is the same thing they did to Barack, this is not new to us."