• #Twitter #bots rampant in news, porn and sports links, Pew finds

    (Photo: Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images)

    There's a lot of bots out there on Twitter.

    That's the message from a new Pew Research Center study, out Monday, 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 analyzed 1.2 million tweets from last summer (July 27-Sept. 11), most of which linked to more than 2,300 popular websites devoted to sports, celebrities, news, business and sites created by organizations.

    Two-thirds (66%) of those tweets were posted or shared by bots and even more, 89%, of links that led to aggregation sites that compile stores posted online 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, which used a "Botometer" developed at the University of Southern California and Indiana University to analyze links and determine if was posted by an automated account.

    “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 their overall prevalence on social media.”

    The Pew researchers did not attempt to assess the accuracy of the material shared by the bots. 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,” said Stefan Wojcik, a computational social scientist said in the study.

    Other findings about bots:

    • Bots were responsible for about 90% of all tweeted links to popular adult content websites, 76% of popular sports sites, and 66% to news and current events sites.
    • Some bots do more work than others. The 500 most-active suspected bot accounts sent 22% of tweeted links to popular news and current events sites. In comparison, the 500 most-active human tweeters sent about 6% of links to the outlets.
    • Bot accounts with a political bias were equally liberal or conservative.

    Bots have long plagued Twitter and other researchers have estimated as many as 15% of all Twitter accounts could be fake. Twitter has said the number is lower.

    Twitter's rules allow automated software, but bans the posting of misleading or abusive content or spam. In February, Twitter suspended multiple accounts following the indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller of Russian nationals for meddling in the U.S. election, including using fake Twitter accounts to wage "information warfare" against the U.S.

    The social network also attempts to remove deliberately manipulative tweets and shared offered details about that process Friday in an online post from Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president for trust and safety.

    During Tuesday's shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., Twitter began to see accounts "deliberately sharing deceptive, malicious information, sometimes organizing on other networks to do so," Harvey says. That activity is typical as information about tragedies emerges and presents "an especially difficult and volatile challenge" in how to respond to "people who are deliberately manipulating the conversation on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of tragedies like this," she says.

    Twitter "should not be the arbiter of truth," Harvey says, but the network does have rules against abusive behavior, hateful conduct, violent threats, spam and against suspended users creating new accounts.

    In recent months, Twitter has improved its tools and ability to respond to manipulative activity on the service, she says. After the YouTube shooting, "we immediately started requiring account owners to remove Tweets — many within minutes of their initial creation — for violating our policies on abusive behavior," she says. "We also suspended hundreds of accounts for harassing others or purposely manipulating conversations about the event."

    Automated systems also helped prevent suspended tweeters from creating new accounts and helped find "potentially violating Tweets and accounts" for the staff to review, she says.

    At the same time, the Twitter team "was also focused on identifying and surfacing relevant and credible content people could trust," Harvey says. "Moments highlighting reliable information were available in 16 countries and in five different languages — many within 10 minutes of the first Tweets — and also surfaced within top trends related to the situation."

    Twitter continues to deploy technology and people to improve the situation, she says. "We're committed to continuing to improve and to holding ourselves accountable as we work to make Twitter better for everyone," Harvey says. "We’re looking forward to sharing more soon."

    Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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  • 8 facts about Americans and Facebook

    8 facts about Americans and Facebook

    Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms among adults in the United States. At the same time, it has attracted scrutiny in recent years because of concerns over its ability to keep users’ personal information private and its role in the 2016 presidential election. Here are eight facts about Americans and Facebook, based on Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2018:

    1 Around two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults use Facebook, according to a survey conducted in January. That’s unchanged from April 2016, the last time the Center asked this question, but up from 54% of adults in August 2012.

    With the exception of YouTube – the video-sharing platform used by 73% of adults – no other major social media platform comes close to Facebook in terms of usage. Around a third of U.S. adults (35%) say they use Instagram, while smaller shares say they use Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter and WhatsApp.

    2 Among U.S. adults who use Facebook, around three-quarters (74%) visit the site at least once a day, according to the January survey. The share of adult users who visit Facebook at least once a day is higher than the shares who visit Snapchat (63%) and Instagram (60%) at least once a day. However, similar shares of Facebook and Snapchat users say they visit each site several times a day (51% and 49%, respectively).

    3 Facebook is popular among all demographic groups, though some adults are more likely to use it than others. Nearly three-quarters of women in the U.S. (74%) use the platform, compared with 62% of men. There are differences by community type and education level, too: Adults in urban areas are more likely to use it than those in suburban or rural areas, as are those with a college degree when compared with people who have lower levels of education.

    Around eight-in-ten (81%) of those ages 18 to 29 use Facebook – about twice the share among those 65 and older (41%). However, the share of older Americans who use the platform has doubled since August 2012, when just 20% of those 65 and older said they used it.

    4 Facebook is used by around half of America’s teens, but it no longer dominates the teen social media landscape as it once did, according to a survey of U.S. teens conducted in March and April. Today, 51% of those ages 13 to 17 say they use the platform, down from 71% in a 2014-2015 survey.

    The top sites among today’s teens include YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%). In the 2014-2015 survey, Facebook was the only platform used by a clear majority of teens.

    5 Lower-income teens are more likely than higher-income teens to use Facebook. U.S. teens generally use similar social media platforms regardless of their demographic characteristics. When it comes to Facebook, however, seven-in-ten teens living in households earning less than $30,000 a year say they use the platform, compared with 36% of those whose annual family income is $75,000 or more.

    6Facebook is a pathway to news for around four-in-ten U.S. adults

    Around four-in-ten U.S. adults (43%) get news from Facebook, according to a survey conducted in July and August. The share of U.S. adults who get news through Facebook is much higher than the shares who get news through YouTube (21%), Twitter (12%), Instagram (8%), LinkedIn (6%) and other platforms. Among U.S. adults who get news from Facebook, women are more likely than men to do this (61% vs. 39%), as are whites when compared with nonwhites (62% vs. 37%).

    742% of Facebook users have taken a break from the site in the past year

    Many adult Facebook users have a complex relationship with the platform. A little over half of adult Facebook users in the U.S. (54%) have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a separate Center survey conducted in May and June. The survey followed revelations that former consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had collected data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or permission.

    About four-in-ten adult Facebook users (42%) have taken a break from checking the platform for several weeks or more, and about a quarter (26%) have deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year. Combined, 74% of adult Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions.

    8 Many adult Facebook users in the U.S. lack a clear understanding of how the platform’s news feed works, according to the May and June survey. Around half of these users (53%) say they do not understand why certain posts are included in their news feed and others are not, including 20% who say they do not understand this at all.

    Just 14% of Facebook users believe ordinary users have a lot of control over the content that appears in their news feed, while twice as many (28%) say users have no control. (A 57% majority of Facebook users say they have a little control over what appears in their news feed.) Around six-in-ten Facebook users (63%) say they have not intentionally tried to influence or change the content that appears on their news feed.

    Note: This is an update of a post originally published on April 10, 2018.

    Topics: Online Communities, Social Media, Internet Activities, Technology Adoption

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  • Here’s How Much Bots Drive Conversation During News Events - #socialmedia #propaganda #fakenews #Twitter #Bots #socialnetworks


    Here’s How Much Bots Drive Conversation During News Events


    Casey Chin; Getty Images

    Last week, as thousands of Central American migrants made their way northward through Mexico, walking a treacherous route toward the US border, talk of "the caravan," as it's become known, took over Twitter. Conservatives, led by President Donald Trump, dominated the conversation, eager to turn the caravan into a voting issue before the midterms. As it turns out, they had some help—from propaganda bots on Twitter.

    Late last week, about 60 percent of the conversation was driven by likely bots. Over the weekend, even as the conversation about the caravan was overshadowed by more recent tragedies, bots were still driving nearly 40 percent of the caravan conversation on Twitter. That's according to an assessment by Robhat Labs, a startup founded by two UC Berkeley students that builds tools to detect bots online. The team's first product, a Chrome extension called BotCheck.me, allows users to see which accounts in their Twitter timelines are most likely bots. Now it's launching a new tool aimed at news organizations called FactCheck.me, which allows journalists to see how much bot activity there is across an entire topic or hashtag.

    Take the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend. On Sunday, one day after the shooting, bots were driving 23 percent of the Twitter activity related to the incident, according to FactCheck.me.

    "These big crises happen, and there’s a flurry of social media activity, but it's really hard to go back and see what’s being spread and get numbers around bot activity," says Ash Bhat, a Robhat Labs cofounder. So the team built an internal tool. Now they're launching it publicly, in hopes of helping newsrooms measure the true volume of conversation during breaking news events, apart from the bot-driven din.

    "The impact of these bot accounts is still seen and felt on Twitter."

    Ash Bhat, Robhat Labs

    Identifying bots is an ever-evolving science. To develop their methodology, Bhat and his partner Rohan Phadte compiled a sample set of accounts they had a high confidence were political propaganda bots. These accounts exhibited unusual behavior, like tweeting political content every few minutes throughout the day or amassing a huge following almost instantly. Unlike automated accounts that news organizations and other entities sometimes set up to send regularly scheduled tweets, the propaganda bots that Robhat Labs is focused on pose as humans. Bhat and Phadte also built a set of verified accounts to represent standard human behavior. They built a machine learning model that could compare the two and pick up on the patterns specific to bot accounts. They wound up with a model that they say is about 94 percent accurate in identifying propaganda bots. Factcheck.me does more than just track bot activity, though. It also applies image recognition technology to identify the most popular memes and images about a given topic being circulated by both bots and humans.

    The tool is still in its earliest stages and requires Bhat and his eight-person team to pull the numbers themselves each time they get a request. Newsrooms interested in tracking a given event have to email Robhat Labs with the topic they want to track. Within 24 hours, the company will spit back a report. Reporters will be able to see both the extent of the bot activity on a given topic, as well as the most shared pieces of content pertaining to that topic.

    There are limitations to this approach. It's not currently possible to the view the percentage of bot activity over a longer period of time. Factcheck.me also doesn't indicate which way the bots are swaying the conversation. Still, it offers more information than newsrooms have previously had at their disposal. Plenty of researchers have studied bot activity on Twitter as a whole, but FactCheck.me allows for more narrow analyses of specific topics, almost in real time. Already, Robhat Labs has released reports on the caravan, the shooting in Pittsburgh, and the senate race in Texas.

    Twitter has spent the last year cracking down on bot activity on the platform. Earlier this year, the company banned users from posting identical tweets to multiple accounts at once or retweeting and liking en masse from different accounts. Then, in July, the company purged millions of bot accounts from the platform, and has booted tens of millions of accounts that it previously locked for suspicious behavior.

    But according to Bhat, the bots have hardly disappeared. They've just evolved. Now, rather than simply sending automated tweets that Twitter might delete, they work to amplify and spread the divisive Tweets written by actual humans. "The impact of these bot accounts is still seen and felt on Twitter," Bhat says.


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