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Nearly half of Twitter accounts pushing to reopen America may be bots (technologyreview.com)
110 points by smacktoward 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

Headline is strange. The article itself says something similar but not the same:

> But in a new study, the researchers have found that bots may account for between 45 and 60% of Twitter accounts discussing covid-19.“

Edit: this was more interesting:

> not only were bots gaining traction and accumulating followers, but they accounted for 82% of the top 50 and 62% of the top 1,000 influential retweeters

CMU has published before that probably Russian adversaries fused different groups in the social graph of Facebook in 2016 and basically got in control of both groups after the merge.

Bots are used to get attention, steer the conversation, introduce key retweeters to bot retweeters and merge a couple independent user groups at scale.

This is a highly specialist job not a couple of random amateurs, and could be the underlying mechanism at work here.

Big brands pay a fortune to execute similar tactics but are not even 10% as effective. Coke for example has an annual advertisement budget 7+ billion.

Again, it follows the same pattern of observing American culture, looking for the pre-existing conflicts and just pouring gasoline into whatever side needs it to catch fire.

Bot Sentinel uses machine learning to find bots. https://botsentinel.com/

From Bot Sentinel's About Section:

"Instead of creating a model based on our interpretation of a troll or bot, we used Twitter rules as a guide when selecting Twitter accounts to train our model. We searched for accounts that were repeatedly violating Twitter rules and we trained our model to identify accounts similar to the accounts we identified as “trollbots.”"

That's not a bot.

It's also a very questionable way to source training data.

Most bots should be programmed to avoid violating Twitter rules to ensure they are not banned.

Maybe Bot Sentinel's model is simply finding users that prefer not to follow authority/rules.

So only 0.5% of America's population is advocating for reopening America on Twitter as opposed to the 1% that is for keeping it closed?

probably more than half of all Twitter accounts are bots :)

edit: apparently this too is a pursuit of academic study. estimated at 15%:


News flash, half of twitter is bots.

What about the account pushing to keep america closed? Are half of those bots as well? Or was this "study" done with a particular agenda in mind?

Exactly. You can probably find pots pushing it just about anything. Wire articles about and takedown the ones that question mainstream opinions. Leave the rest. They did the world we live in right now. Extreme, forced conformity.

In every crime, look the one who had a solid reason to commit it. Russia and China support literally any freaks, like anti-vaxxers, just to make US focused on its internal problems. Notice, how well-organized the reopen movement, and how sporadic and unprepared anti-reopen protests, mostly organized by small groups of medical workers.

No need to leave the country to find well capitalized suspicious characters.

I'm sure the CEO of Jet Blue (the guy that funded a phony study to minimize covid) and execs like him would gladly astroturf on twitter.

Even though this is an interesting story, I'll make a prediction this post will be flagged into oblivion, as an earlier post will testify


Russia's view on C19 changed from disbelief to acceptance in April I think?

So either you will see this in the data, or you'll see them playing both sides.

So where are the bots to close America?

The study isn't even released yet. So who knows what they may have made up yet with their 'machine- learning'.

There obviously is a lot of misinformation from nation states on Twitter and Reddit and HN. This press release is next to useless unless it has a point or interesting proof or names a new nation not Russia.

>So where are the bots to close America?

Bot disinformation campaigns like this tend to be fuelled by US adversaries and thus usually push into directions that are harmful or embarassing for the US, so there isn't much incentive to advocate for keeping the containment measures going, because that's essentially the sensible decision backed by health experts at this point.

All the spam around covid, which you can even see if you just browse twitter yourself is mostly miracle cures, reopening the US, Bill Gates conspiracy theory stuff and so on.

> and thus usually push into directions that are harmful or embarassing for the US,

No they aren't. They push conflict is the theory. If this theory is incorrect, then that's a big deal.

But as I also said Russia also did a 180 on whether lock downs were good or bad.

So we still should have seen this turn. They would have wanted the USA to lockdown at first, since they didn't.

If any other country is involved, that too is a big deal.

This press release just repeats what we know. Russia messes with twitter to piss people off, but the article leads with a great Russian designed title "Only bots push to reopen"

"where are the bots to close America?"

On FB, I recently saw a meme along the lines of "a couple weeks of eating their own cooking and white people are rioting".

Are you saying that's posted by a bot?

Well, it was posted by someone I know, but who knows where it originated. Any specific thing, who knows. My point is that if you assume the people promoting the protests are generally promoting unpleasantness on all sides, then it's in plain view - there's no question of why they aren't. What you see depends on your priors.

Everyone _may_ be a bot.

Anytime something doesn't fit the narrative we're all supposed to submit to: bots.

So you believe there are conspirators who manipulate the media to push a certain narrative on the public, but you do not believe there are conspirators who manipulate social media to push a narrative?

I saw something recently that was supposed to be a tearjerking story about a doctor who is just drained by all the crazy conspiracy theorists that are persecuting him. But the whole story was a conspiracy theory about Facebook and Google creating viral conspiracy theories, with no particular motivation or mechanism. This seems to me like a whole genre, it just stood out because of the anti-conspiracy theory fillip.

I can hardly think of anything I've read in a long time that attacks conspiracy theories, specific ones or in general, without promoting an unbelievable one as an alternative. Or demanding one by implication.

If you absolutely are going to reject the idea of a conspiracy being responsible for general insanity, it seems like maybe we should be looking for an environmental factor, analogous to leaded gasoline.

Everybody has been worrying about cell phones causing cancer, maybe the radiation just makes people crazy instead? Or maybe there is a virus that unlike Covid doesn't cause lung problems that people notice?

I just want to note that when I wrote the above I was unaware of the specific conspiracy theory that covid-19 is caused by 5G - I saw that this morning, and it's a coincidence, I swear!


The next suspect (‘while we don’t have direct evidence’) is Big Oil!

Don’t forget the Russians or the Chinese!

I'll admit that I didn't read the article, but the headline sounds so much like "the boy who cried wolf" by now.

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