Bots on the march in Twit­ter links takeover

The Irish Times - Business - - TECHNOLOGY - CIARA O’BRIEN

Au­to­mated ac­counts – “bots” – on Twit­ter are re­spon­si­ble for spread­ing two-thirds of tweeted links to dig­i­tal content, the Pew Re­search Cen­tre has found.

The cen­tre looked at 1.2 mil­lion tweets over a 47-day pe­riod that con­tained links to more than 2,300 web­sites cov­er­ing top­ics from sport, celebri­ties, news, com­mer­cial in­for­ma­tion and or­gan­i­sa­tions’ web­sites.

Pew Re­search Cen­tre used Bo­tome­ter, a tool de­vel­oped by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and In­di­ana Univer­sity, to de­ter­mine if links had been posted through au­to­mated ac­counts.

It found 66 per cent of tweeted links to news and current events web­sites had been shared by au­to­mated ac­counts, with some vari­a­tions for the dif­fer­ent types of sites.


Ag­gre­ga­tion sites, which con­tain sto­ries from dif­fer­ent web­sites, have an 89 per cent rate.

Adult web­sites and sports also have a higher rate of bot ac­tiv­ity, at 90 per cent of tweeted links and 76 per cent re­spec­tively com­ing through au­to­mated ac­counts.

“These find­ings il­lus­trate the ex­tent to which bots play a prom­i­nent and per­va­sive role in the social media en­vi­ron­ment,” says as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of re­search Aaron Smith.

“Au­to­mated ac­counts are far from a niche phe­nom­e­non: they share a sig­nif­i­cant portion of tweeted links to even the most prom­i­nent and main­stream pub­li­ca­tions and on­line out­lets.

“Since these ac­counts can im­pact the in­for­ma­tion peo­ple see on social media, it is im­por­tant to have a sense of their over­all preva­lence on social media.”

Not bi­ased

The 500 most ac­tive bot ac­counts dis­cov­ered dur­ing the anal­y­sis were re­spon­si­ble for 22 per cent of tweeted links to these sites, com­pared with 6 per cent for the top 500 hu­man users.

But the sus­pected bots weren’t overtly bi­ased, shar­ing about 41 per cent of links to po­lit­i­cal sites with a con­ser­va­tive au­di­ence, and 44 per cent to pri­mar­ily lib­eral au­di­ences, a dif­fer­ence that re­searchers said was not sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.

Bots also shared be­tween 57 per cent and 66 per cent of links from news and current events sites whose au­di­ence is ide­o­log­i­cally mixed or cen­trist.

“What we can’t say from this study is whether the content shared by au­to­mated ac­counts is truth­ful in­for­ma­tion or not, or the ex­tent to which users in­ter­act with content shared by sus­pected bots,” says com­pu­ta­tional social sci­en­tist Ste­fan Wo­j­cik.

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