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How bots rule Twitter: two-thirds of tweets posted by automated accounts, study finds

Study that analysed 1.2 million tweets last year also found bots were responsible for 90 per cent of all tweeted links to popular porn sites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 6:00pm

There are a lot of bots out there on Twitter. That’s the message from a new study by the Pew Research Centre in the United States, which found that two-thirds of tweets that link to digital content are generated by bots – accounts powered by automated software, not real tweeters.

Researchers analysed 1.2 million tweets from July to September last year, most of which linked to more than 2,300 popular websites devoted to sports, celebrities, news, business and sites created by organisations.

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Two-thirds of those tweets were posted or shared by bots, while 89 per cent of links that led to aggregation sites that compile online stories were posted by bots, the study says.

The findings suggest that bots “play a prominent and pervasive role in the social media environment”, said Aaron Smith, associate research director at Pew. The study used a “Botometre” developed at the University of Southern California and Indiana University to analyse links and determine if tweets were posted by an automated account.

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“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,” Smith said in comments accompanying the study. “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.”

The Pew researchers did not attempt to assess the accuracy of the material shared by the bots. It was also not determined whether the bots were “good” or “bad”, or “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”, Stefan Wojcik, a computational social scientist, said in the study.

Other findings about bots:

• Bots were responsible for about 90 per cent of all tweeted links to popular adult content websites, 76 per cent of popular sports sites, and 66 per cent to news and current events sites.

• Some bots do more work than others. The 500 most active suspected bot accounts sent 22 per cent of tweeted links to popular news and current events sites. In comparison, the 500 most active human tweeters sent about 6 per cent of links to the outlets.

•Bot accounts with a political bias were equally liberal and conservative.

Bots have long plagued Twitter and other researchers have estimated as many as 15 per cent of all Twitter accounts could be fake. Twitter says the number is lower. Twitter’s rules allow automated software, but ban the posting of misleading or abusive content or spam.