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Social media isn’t real life

Saturday, May 23, 2020

* Carnegie Mellon University

Scrolling through your Twitter feed, it may not be obvious when you come upon a bot account — something that is more likely to occur in the era of COVID-19. Carnegie Mellon University researchers have discovered that much of the discussion around the pandemic and stay-at-home orders is being fueled by misinformation campaigns that use convincing bots.

To analyze bot activity around the pandemic, CMU researchers since January have collected more than 200 million tweets discussing coronavirus or COVID-19. Of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% are bots, they found. Of the top 1,000 retweeters, 62% are bots. […]

“We’re seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we’d predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises and elections,” said Kathleen Carley, a professor in the School of Computer Science’s Institute for Software Research and director of the Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems (CASOS) and Center for Informed Democracy & Social - Cybersecurity (IDeaS.) […]

Carley’s research team uses multiple methods to determine who is or isn’t a bot. Artificial intelligence processes account information and looks at things such as the number of followers, frequency of tweeting and an account’s mentions network. […]

More than 100 types of inaccurate COVID-19 stories have been identified, such as those about potential cures. But bots are also dominating conversations about ending stay-at-home orders and “reopening America.”

Many factors of the online discussions about “reopening America” suggest that bot activity is orchestrated. One indicator is the large number of bots, many of which are accounts that were recently created. Accounts that are possibly humans with bot assistants generate 66% of the tweets. Accounts that are definitely bots generate 34% of the tweets.

“When we see a whole bunch of tweets at the same time or back to back, it’s like they’re timed,” Carley said. “We also look for use of the same exact hashtag, or messaging that appears to be copied and pasted from one bot to the next.” […]

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.”

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

- Posted by Rich Miller        

12 Comments
  1. - Oswego Willy - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 10:48 am:

    The biggest mistake (or what they like) is that social media platforms and the viral aspect that makes them a “must” to so many on there.

    Here I thought the most vulnerable, kids and seniors, were the ones to worry about on social media.

    What I’ve learned is the simple minded to “politics of my bubble” are the most vulnerable.

    Worse than an echo chamber, the forced narrative infiltrates not only the overt bots purposely, it seeps into… your cousins’, uncle’s… friends’ feeds… and the platforms look at these reaches… and the influence… even the bad… is seemingly celebrated.

    Trolls are gonna troll, “influencers” need that high… bots feed on our need to socialize in ways not best to society.

    “Don’t press send”… is now… look who is sending and pushing… our divides.


  2. - JS Mill - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 10:51 am:

    It is disturbing and disssapointing that people are still falling for this. Based on some of what I have heard coming out of people’s mouths and coverage of protests, people are buying in hook, line, and sinker. Confirmation bias is very powerful these days.


  3. - Grandson of Man - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 10:55 am:

    I believe it’s important to follow traditional news outlets, ones with known reporters. The president profits politically from purveyance of phony information, such as described above. He demonizes and attacks traditional news media, which is dangerous.


  4. - The Other Rich Hill - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 10:58 am:

    And yet Facebook, Twitter, YouTube are doing relatively little to remove or prevent bots.

    In fact Facebook is currently doing *less* to combat fake news and fake accounts stating they currently have less resources “due to COVID-19″.

    If any job seems like it’s perfect for working from home it would be a job where all you do is delete fake accounts from Facebook. :)


  5. - @misterjayem - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 10:58 am:

    “Conspiracy theories increase polarization in groups. It’s what many misinformation campaigns aim to do.”

    Comment trolls, too.

    – MrJM


  6. - drudge - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 11:35 am:

    Agreed. “Reality TV” isn’t either


  7. - Nearly Normal - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 11:39 am:

    The big problem is there is no policing by the owners of the sites. As noted above by “The Other Rich Hill” the sites are rife with misinformation about these hot button issues. I have been shocked by the repeating of these false stories by people whom I thought were intelligent enough to do some fact checking. The problem is that when another person whom they respect forwards on these stories, there is an assumption that they have been verified. Not so, it just keeps multiplying and stirring up anger and resentment.

    It makes my blood boil to see Nazi symbols and flags at these protests. And I am not friendly towards Confederate flags either. The ugly truth behind those flags is forgotten in all of this.


  8. - Lynn S. - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 11:39 am:

    Somewhere in here it feels like I should say something about Vladimir Putin, his history in the KGB, and how the Russian troll factories (and their 17 year old employees from the former Yugoslavia) messed with the 2016 election.

    But Covid-19 is currently mowing down people in Russia.

    Too bad it (first Covid-19, then the troll factories messing up political campaigns) won’t hit Vlad?


  9. - thoughts matter - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 11:47 am:

    Twitter, Facebook, conspiracy web sites that pretend to be journalists, 24 hour news that focuses on 1 issue are all stoking the fires of a great divide in our country. All that aided and abetted in getting the election results we got in 2016. I don’t know what the answers are to get us back to what used to pass for normal. Civility seems to be damaged beyond all repair. People think the way people act in reality shows is the way to treat friends, family, strangers. People think that electing unqualified candidates because they are amusing is what we need to run our country. Well, they are running it into the ground.


  10. - Bruce (no not him) - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 12:58 pm:

    I used to try and explain and correct my friends on facebook when they shared bad info. It got to the point, that it became easier to just ignore them. It fits their agenda, so they are OK with it.


  11. - Amy B - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 1:43 pm:

    The cheat sheet thread at the end of session is one of the small things that makes me so very happy. Thanks Rich!!! xoxo


  12. - Chicagoan - Saturday, May 23, 20 @ 1:58 pm:

    Kinzinger posted a good video statement about this earlier this week


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