CMU Study Shows Nearly Half Of Tweets Protesting Stay-At-Home Order Are Bots

Photo credit AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - Research out of Carnegie Mellon University shows that some Twitter accounts talking about “reopening American” could be bots.

CMU says much of the talk around the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders is being heightened by “misinformation campaigns that use convincing bots.”

Researchers have been analyzing activity around the pandemic and since January have collected more than 200 million tweets talking about the coronavirus.

“Of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% are bots, they found. Of the top 1,000 retweeters, 62% are bots.”

Research is ongoing and information from Facebook Reddit and YouTube have been added.

“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, 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 says that one of the reasons for the uptick in bots is that people have more time on their hands and since the pandemic is global more people are interested.

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

The research team uses artificial intelligence to help determine what accounts are bots.

“Tweeting more frequently than is humanly possible, or appearing to be in one country and then another a few hours later is indicative of a bot,” Carley said. 

Over 100 types of false coronavirus stories have been identified by the team, including stories about potential cures, hospitals filled with mannequins or the virus 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.” 

Currently there isn’t enough known to mount a counter measure as blocked accounts can come back.

To spot a fake account Carley says closely examining an account can help give hints such as small typos, a lot of tweets coming out in a short time or a user name or profile image that don’t seem to match.

“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,” Carley said. “Just be very vigilant.”

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