Last week, as thousands of Central American migrants made their way northward through Mexico, walking a treacherous route toward the US border, talk of “the caravan,” as the item’s become known, took over Twitter. Conservatives, led by President Donald Trump, dominated the conversation, eager to turn the caravan into a voting issue before the midterms. As the item turns out, they had some help—by propaganda bots on Twitter.
Late last week, about 60 percent of the conversation was driven by likely bots. Over the weekend, even as the conversation about the caravan was overshadowed by more recent tragedies, bots were still driving nearly 40 percent of the caravan conversation on Twitter. that will’s according to an assessment by Robhat Labs, a startup founded by two UC Berkeley students that will builds tools to detect bots online. The team’s first product, a Chrome extension called BotCheck.me, allows users to see which accounts in their Twitter timelines are most likely bots. at that will point the item’s launching a completely new tool aimed at news organizations called FactCheck.me, which allows journalists to see how much bot activity there is actually across an entire topic or hashtag.
Take the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend. On Sunday, one day after the shooting, bots were driving 23 percent of the Twitter activity related to the incident, according to FactCheck.me.
“These big crises happen, as well as also also there’s a flurry of social media activity, although the item’s truly hard to go back as well as also also see what’s being spread as well as also also get numbers around bot activity,” says Ash Bhat, a Robhat Labs cofounder. So the team built an internal tool. at that will point they’re launching the item publicly, in hopes of helping newsrooms measure the true volume of conversation during breaking news events, apart by the bot-driven din.
“The impact of these bot accounts is actually still seen as well as also also felt on Twitter.”
Ash Bhat, Robhat Labs
Identifying bots is actually an ever-evolving science. To develop their methodology, Bhat as well as also also his partner Rohan Phadte compiled a sample set of accounts they had a high confidence were political propaganda bots. These accounts exhibited unusual behavior, like tweeting political content every few minutes throughout the day or amassing a huge following almost instantly. Unlike automated accounts that will news organizations as well as also also additional entities sometimes set up to send regularly scheduled tweets, the propaganda bots that will Robhat Labs is actually focused on pose as humans. Bhat as well as also also Phadte also built a set of verified accounts to represent standard human behavior. They built a machine learning product that will could compare the two as well as also also pick up on the patterns specific to bot accounts. They wound up which has a product that will they say is actually about 94 percent accurate in identifying propaganda bots. Factcheck.me does more than just track bot activity, though. the item also applies image recognition technology to identify the most favorite memes as well as also also images about a given topic being circulated by both bots as well as also also humans.
The tool is actually still in its earliest stages as well as also also requires Bhat as well as also also his eight-person team to pull the numbers themselves each time they get a request. Newsrooms interested in tracking a given event have to email Robhat Labs with the topic they want to track. Within 24 hours, the company will spit back a report. Reporters will be able to see both the extent of the bot activity on a given topic, as well as the most shared pieces of content pertaining to that will topic.
There are limitations to that will approach. the item’s not currently possible to the view the percentage of bot activity over a longer period of time. Factcheck.me also doesn’t indicate which way the bots are swaying the conversation. Still, the item offers more information than newsrooms have previously had at their disposal. Plenty of researchers have studied bot activity on Twitter as a whole, although FactCheck.me allows for more narrow analyses of specific topics, almost in real time. Already, Robhat Labs has released reports on the caravan, the shooting in Pittsburgh, as well as also also the senate race in Texas.
Twitter has spent the last year cracking down on bot activity on the platform. Earlier that will year, the company banned users by posting identical tweets to multiple accounts at once or retweeting as well as also also liking en masse by different accounts. Then, in July, the company purged millions of bot accounts by the platform, as well as also also has booted tens of millions of accounts that will the item previously locked for suspicious behavior.
although according to Bhat, the bots have hardly disappeared. They’ve just evolved. at that will point, rather than simply sending automated tweets that will Twitter might delete, they work to amplify as well as also also spread the divisive Tweets written by actual humans. “The impact of these bot accounts is actually still seen as well as also also felt on Twitter,” Bhat says.