propaganda machine Twitter accounts COVID-19 are bots, researchers

‘A propaganda machine’: 45% of Twitter accounts tweeting on COVID-19 are bots, researchers find

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If you’re taking medical advice from Twitter, you might want to ask a doctor instead. In all likelihood, you’re doing what a potentially nefarious bot wants you to do. And that could be fatal.

The lies are contagious

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Researchers identified over 100 false narratives about the coronavirus on Twitter by accounts controlled by bots including:

  • Hospitals are filled with mannequins
  • 5G towers are responsible for the virus – amazingly, 77 of these towers have already been set on fire in England
  • Bill Gates started the virus so he can make even more money

What’s the point of the bots?

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According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, of the 200 million tweets examined, about 45% were not sent by humans. The purpose of these bots: to create divisions, panic, and distrust.

“We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks…” — Kathleen Carley, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University

How can I identify a bot?

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Look for tweets sent out very quickly, subtle typos, or profile images and usernames that appear suspicious. Then block them. But be aware that these blocked accounts can (and probably will) soon be back under a different name.

“When we see a whole bunch of tweets at the same time or back to back, it’s like they’re timed. 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.” — Kathleen Carley, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University

Other red flags include:

  • Accounts that tweet more than humanly possible
  • Accounts that claim to be in multiple countries within a few hours
  • Frequency of the user being mentioned

Twitter’s trying to combat the bots — but it won’t be easy

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is trying to stop the spread of deceit. He announced that his company had introduced new rules that will identify misleading or disputed tweets about the coronavirus. In the meantime, verify any new “breakthroughs” before you pursue them.

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