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‘Relatively Few’ Twitter Bots Were Needed To Spread Misinformation and Overwhelm Fact Checkers, Study Finds

A new study conducted by Indian University researchers found that “relatively few accounts are responsible for a large share of the traffic that carries misinformation,” with just 6 percent of Twitter accounts identified as bots responsible for 31 percent of “low-credibility” content. “Bots amplify the reach of low-credibility content, to the point that it is statistically indistinguishable from that of fact-checking articles,” researchers wrote. NBC News reports: The study analyzed 14 million tweets that linked to more than 400,000 articles from May 2016 until the end of March 2017. Of those articles, 389,569 were from “low credibility sources” that had been repeatedly flagged by fact-checking organizations for containing misinformation, as well as 15,053 articles that originated from “fact-checking sources.” Of that sample, over 13.6 million tweets linked to “low-credibility sources” and around 1.1 million tweets linked to known fact-checking sources, leading researchers to attribute greater virality with “fake news.” To achieve maximum exposure, the study found that “social bots” used two methods to manipulate users into trusting the linked article’s validity.

“First, bots are particularly active in amplifying content in the very early spreading moments, before an article goes ‘viral,'” researchers wrote. “Second, bots target influential users through replies and mentions.” Users struggled to differentiate bots from other human users, as humans “have retweeted bots who post low-credibility content almost as much as they retweet other humans,” according to the researchers. The researchers noted that social media platforms have moved to address the spread of misinformation by bots, but said “their effectiveness is hard to evaluate.”

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