The accounts would then be sold as followers, which is an attractive service to some for a variety of reasons
Tilting public opinion goes back to the beginning of the last century and the beginning of 'public relations' i.e. Edward Bernays http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_(book).
Companies, brands and others do this as well influencing thought, it is a huge problem on Facebook as well with likes, ads, accounts.
It is a faction of marketing (public relations) and has elements of tabloid.
Twitter provides a public stream of tweets. Simply pull tweets out of that, if it doesn't contain another users name or url, etc. Distribute out to one of your bots, weighted by chattiness. Get fancy and have some sort of baysian filtering for what category bucket it falls into and give your bots interests.
I'd guess there are enough duplicate tweets. "Another crappy day at work", "looking forward to dinner tonight", "going to see my sister this weekend!", etc. That I doubt it'd be a very useful heuristic.
First, They aren't really nets, they all run on a single server (ok they run on appengine so they aren't quite a single but they aren't a "bot net"). But they control about 7500 accounts, and I have about 80k accounts I own.
Second, Some of them do have real uses. They respond to certain events when they happen. Might be a keyword in a news story, might be something else. Sometimes that is to get the word out for good, sometimes for bad.
Let's say you have a company you like, and you want to drive readership of good new. My bots would provide positive reinforcement to the authors and sharers of those articles. Like giving HN karma, but on twitter. The person who shared the article sees "imaginary bot favorited your tweet" and suddenly thinks "I should tweet about that company more often".
Other times I use the bots to do things like "pruning" bad ideas. I have a bot that looks like a Nazi. Acts like a nazi and talks like a hick. When certain racist remarks or bits of misinformation are shared it responds with positive reinforcement. Many people then re-evaluate if they want to say thing the Nazi agrees with.
Rarely do I use my "bots" for nefarious purposes. Sometimes for personal gain, but not for anything "evil".
The NSA knows where to find me too.
I can't tell if you actually believe that, or if you're just trolling.
There is a possibility that this was a botnet that sells followers. I know that this one wasn't into retweeting or linking to anything, though such botnets do exist.
I wasn't able to prove that is the case with that particular network, as there were a number of "following nobody, and nobody follows" accounts. But I've found another that for sure is in the business of so doing. How does one person with only four very banal tweets get 4000 followers? It turns out that his followers are indeed bots. This network I will be collecting too. Maybe it will turn out to overlap.
PS: I won't insist on the theory that it's government sponsored bot. it could well be commercial, or just run by some jerk.
This is actually very common. Twitter recently took down a large number of bots and published a paper about their classification. One of the attributes of a Twitter bot account is it's reputation. By remaining idle, it can establish a reputation within Twitter's spam detection system, becoming more valuable when sold.
Edit: HUZZAH! After Googling like crazy, I found the paper: http://www.imchris.org/research/thomas_sec13.pdf
Also, it'd be interesting to read some of your reasons for believing this is in any way, shape, or form a "government sponsored bot". By saying that without any reasoning, you're placing yourself squarely in the "tinfoil hat" camp.
I really didn't like the message that linked Snowden to HAARP, for all kinds of reasons. It creates a false link between his documents, and the tinfoil theories surrounding HAARP, (global assassination, etc). And I have indeed seen some fake articles that tried to make precisely that claim. That kind of link would also put Snowden, and those who believe that he did the right thing, into the tinfoil-crazy camp. So it smelled bad. Maybe it's just random gibberish, like a lot of the messages. But it really smelled.
Why GCHQ vs NSA.... the most vile tricks we've learned about come from them. The Neo-COINTELPRO stuff.
Other than that, I do have a serious aversion to spammers.
Many of those who were accused of wearing tinfoil hats because of their views on government surveillance turned out to be pretty reasonable after all, no?
At any rate, no, I will not stop it. This guy is crying wolf and he needs to be called on it.
Fine, keep pulling that term out on HN and you will be seen as a provocateur, whether or not you actually are one.
Edit: And in case it's not clear, I actually do agree that the "botnet" likely has no connection to the government.
No. In the security community much of this stuff was given serious thought and systems were developed to defend against these types of things (see TPMs). The only real surprise was the way it was being done to reckless abandon. There is a difference between the tinfoil hat approach of just envisioning things evil organizations/governments might do and assuming an intelligence gathering agency is gathering as much information as it can.
The more I think about it, your argument is so bad I wish I didn't even waste the time responding. You are just providing a completely unrelated example to try to give weight to baseless drivel. You could have just as easily used the same argument to support the argument that the moon-landing was faked.
Who also tweeted the following:
#GetInShape with my online #training
Snowden Haarp.... (which connects it to the same botnet)
So officially, they're only spammers, not spooks.
PS: Did I mention that I still despise spammers?
Waste of resources sure, but interesting results have come out of these accounts like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_ebooks
If you remember, a couple weeks ago someone uncovered a massive bot net on Facebook, that liked the most random things. This bot net could also be paid to like a specific page or person, but it would be lost in the noise of liking everything else.
Even if there is a lot of noise, I would try to track down any correlations between these bots and any other twitter accounts and/or their content - to see if even something small (R^2 < .20) falls out.
Twitter for sure knows about it though since they have server logs.
So I am not at all surprised that people are investing in building up tons of what appear to be legit, active accounts.
This is exactly how the GCHQ use Twitter:
"Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable"
Y'know how people control botnets with irc or webposts? Maybe it is something like that, as other have speculated. But them why would they be posting messages lots of times? That's a problem in my ideary.
FTA (Google Translate, slighty modified):
However, there were still "other channels" as Attorney Siegmund said: In the "Line D1" the spies took simply Youtube-videos on the Internet. Under harmless videos they put under collusive usernames hidden messages. And then there was, according to the investigators nor the agent Vintage bounce points, mainly in North Rhine-Westphalia. There, hidden mechanical engineer Andreas stop documents that were picked up by members of the Russian headquarters.
They were even links to accounts.. can't find a better source at the moment.
Fake accounts are literally everywhere on Twitter. I have no doubt there are "botnets" out there that are far more sophisticated, more difficult to detect, and contain many more accounts than this.
Setup half the accounts to tweet one team will win the Superbowl beforehand, the other half to tweet in favor of the other team. After the game, shutdown the incorrect accounts. Continue doing this until you have one incredibly prophetic account which you rename to "The Oracle" and use to pump and dump penny stocks.
10 correct predictions would take only 1024 accounts.
The accounts make tweets to appear active and legitimate; they are given profile pictures lifted from other accounts, etc.
Want 10k followers? I have a few these ones, look at how active they are etc.
However, you could also use it to poison the kind of metrics companies like DataSift use. A lot of people use metrics like that to make decisions. E.g. a news network might bend it's editorial stance depending on what was trending among its demographic.
My personal experience (where I mostly follow news organization feeds) is different.
In short, in my experience it seems Twitter is great as a broadcasting medium and not so great as a two way communications medium.
He has automation for content generation but the algorithms/spinning sucks so less unique content is generated. There are many many botnets of larger and smaller sizes, but same shit applies on Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr (x100).