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Bot-hunter tool finds nearly half of tweets discussing 'reopen America' are from internet crawlers

Reopening America has been a hot topic on Twitter, as millions are calling for the US government to end the lockdown – but a new study suggests the trend is being fueled by bots.

Using a ‘bot-hunter’ tool, researchers discovered that there are twice as many web crawlers starting conversations about the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders than human users.

After analyzing more than 200 million tweets, experts determined that of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82 percent are bots and 62 percent are bots in the top 1,000.

The team also found that 66 percent of the activity is orchestrated by human hands.

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Reopening America has been a hot topic on Twitter, as millions are calling for the US government to end the lockdown - but a new study suggests the trend is being fueled by bots

Reopening America has been a hot topic on Twitter, as millions are calling for the US government to end the lockdown – but a new study suggests the trend is being fueled by bots 

The findings were made by a team at Carnegie Mellon University, which scanned Twitter for coronavirus related tweets starting in January.

They used artificial intelligence to look for signs of a bot powered account such as those that post numerous amounts of tweets and show locations in multiple countries in a few hours.

And although there is much misinformation about the virus, bots were found to be more involved with conversations related to re-opening American and stay-at-home orders.

Conspiracy theories about the coronavirus have been running wild on Twitter and other social media platforms, which are causing harm to the public.

Some ideas such people should drink bleach to cure the virus, while others say the pandemic was sparked by 5G cellphone towers.   

Using a 'bot-hunter tool, researchers discovered that there are twice as many web crawlers starting conversations about the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders than human users. Last week, Twitter announced it will warn users when a tweet contains disputed or misleading information about the coronavirus.

Using a ‘bot-hunter tool, researchers discovered that there are twice as many web crawlers starting conversations about the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders than human users. Last week, Twitter announced it will warn users when a tweet contains disputed or misleading information about the coronavirus.  

Kathleen Carley, a professor in the School for Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, said in a statement:’ We’re seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we’d predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises and elections.’

She also noted why they speculate there has been a rise in bots during the coronavirus pandemic – millions of people are in lockdown and have more time to people to create the internet spiders.

The team also noticed a spike in sophisticated groups that hire firms to run bot accounts

‘Because it’s global, it’s being used by various countries and interest groups as an opportunity to meet political agendas,’ said Carley.

A subset of tweets about ‘reopening America’ reference conspiracy theories, such as hospitals being filled with mannequins or the coronavirus being linked to 5G towers.

‘Conspiracy theories increase polarization in groups. It’s what many misinformation campaigns aim to do,’ Carley said. ‘People have real concerns about health and the economy, and people are preying on that to create divides.’

The team also found that 66 percent of the activity is orchestrated by human hands. Twitter also shared how they handle tweets with misinformation about the coronavirus

The team also found that 66 percent of the activity is orchestrated by human hands. Twitter also shared how they handle tweets with misinformation about the coronavirus 

Carley said that spreading conspiracy theories leads to more extreme opinions, which can in turn lead to more extreme behavior and less rational thinking.

‘Increased polarization will have a variety of real-world consequences, and play out in things like voting behavior and hostility towards ethnic groups,’ Carley said.

Unfortunately, Carley and her team are unable to locate who is behind the bots.  

HOW DO TWITTER’S BIGGEST ACCOUNTS ACT LIKE BOTS?

Researchers have previously discovered bots retweet and post links to external sites more often than non-bot accounts.

They also see less engagement on their tweets. 

Bots tweet more often, yet they spend less time ‘liking’ others’ tweets.

They revealed the behavior of users with 10 million followers or more was more in line with bots than humans.

These accounts tweet at roughly the same pace as bots with similar follower numbers and, like bots, tweet more in general.

They rely on retweeting and posting links to external sites more than human accounts. 

Their tweets are also of lower quality and see less engagement. 

‘We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that,’ Carley said.

She does suggest users do their diligence when looking at Twitter accounts to determined if they are real users or the crawlers. 

‘There is no guarantee, but closely examining an account can offer indications of a bot, such as sharing links with subtle typos, many tweets coming out very quickly, or a user name and profile image that don’t seem to match up,’ Carley explains in a statement.

‘Even if someone appears to be from your community, if you don’t know them personally, take a closer look, and always go to authoritative or trusted sources for information. Just be very vigilant.’

Last week, Twitter announced it will warn users when a tweet contains disputed or misleading information about the coronavirus.

The social media firm will take a case-by-case approach to how it decides which tweets are labeled and will only remove posts that are harmful, company leaders said Monday.

Some tweets will run with a label underneath that directs users to a link with additional information about COVID-19.

Other tweets might be covered entirely by a warning label alerting users that ‘some or all of the content shared in this tweet conflict with guidance from public health experts regarding COVID-19.’

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