Internet bots are key players in propelling disinformation: study of 9 countries

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Computers can manipulate public opinion. This is the conclusion of a new study by the Oxford Internet Institute, which highlights the significant spread of computer-generated political messages on social media. A group of researchers gathered empirical evidence on the size of automated relaying of messages on social media in “attempts to artificially shape public life”. The authors conclude that bots – software designed to artificially amplify messages on social networks – “are often key tools in propelling disinformation across sites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and beyond”.

Russia: 45% of Twitter accounts automated

According to the authors, “in authoritarian countries, social media are a primary means of social control” while in democracies, automated amplification is used to “manipulate public opinion” or particular segments of society. The study contains examples based on the analysis of large samples of online activity, in particular on Twitter, in various countries. The findings include that in Russia, 45% of the Twitter accounts are automated. See the chapter on Russia in the study.

Ukraine: most advanced use of computational propaganda

The researchers say that Ukraine is “the most globally advanced case of computational propaganda”, with the country being “the frontline of numerous disinformation campaigns in Europe”. The analysis showed that manually maintained fake accounts were more prevalent in Ukrainian online campaigns than automated relaying of messages. At the same time, bots were used for a wide variety of functions: increasing social media audiences, faking engagement to amplify messages, automatically registering new accounts and reporting other accounts to the networks to block them. Around 15% of all Twitter accounts in Ukraine are generated by bots rather than people, the study notes.

The disinformation around the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine is an example of such combination of tools: a fake Twitter account of an alleged Spanish air traffic controlled named Carlos at the Kyiv airport claimed to have seen a Ukrainian military aircraft near the area of the catastrophe. In the wake of this tweet, Russian media and official sources alleged that the Malaysian plane had been shot down by the Ukrainian army. Ukrainian fact checkers were able to show that the story was a fake since only Ukrainian nationals are permitted to work at the Ukrainian traffic control. Bots were programmed to report Facebook accounts of journalists posting about MH17 and thus have helped block their accounts. Bot activity increased again when the results of the joint investigation on the downing of MH17 were presented in September 2016: each time someone used the #MH17 hashtag in Russian, “a bot would join the conversation and reply with a link to a fake article questioning the results of the investigation”. This occurred even when the tweet text had nothing to do with MH17.See the chapter on Ukraine in the study.

Germany: Facebook the platform of choice for misinformation

The researchers characterise Germany as a “leader” in traditional news consumption, with only 20% of the population claiming to get news on social media. All major German parties have committed to refraining from using bots during the campaign ahead of the parliamentary elections in September. It is therefore no surprise that there is indeed limited evidence of high-frequency bots amplifying political messages in the German twitter sphere. The hyperactive bots identified by the researchers seemed to focus on spreading negative messages on migrants and to support the right-wing party AfD. However, the researchers analysed Twitter content related to the election of the German Federal President and found that 20% of it contained misinformation. This compares favourably with the situation before the US elections where the ratio of genuine information vs misinformation was 1:1. Instead, Facebook seems to be the platform where disinformation is disseminated in Germany, so much so that German media refer to it as “Fakebook”. See the chapter on Germany in the study.

The researchers end their study with a call for social media organisations to meet their responsibilities: “Computational propaganda is now one of the most powerful tools against democracy. Social media firms may not be creating this nasty content, but they are the platform for it. They need to significantly redesign themselves if democracy is going to survive social media.”


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  • Scradje

    Disinformation campaigns work because there are so many imbeciles willing to believe whatever rubbish fits their own defective narrative. Which is why Trump got elected. In Britain, a lying, terror supporting Marxist (who of course, like all truly evil people also supports fuehrer pootler) just recently came a fairly close second in a fair election.

    • veth

      Massive cyber attack in Ukraine by Russia, FSB kills intelligence officer in Kyiv. He collected all the evidence of the Russian war in Ukraine.

    • veth

      THIS KILLING IN KYIV SHOWS ONE THING: RUSSIA IS LOSING THE WAR WITH UKRAINE, AND STARTS PHASE 2, MORE ATTACKS INSIDE FREE UKRAINE

      • Mick Servian

        Yeah mate. Sure they are. Lol
        Russia could obliterate Ukraine in a week if it wanted to.

        • zorbatheturk

          Wrong, dumbass.

          • Mick Servian

            Of course i am.
            Im sure Ukraine could conquer Europe if it wanted to.
            Lol
            It just doesn’t want to.
            Lol

          • zorbatheturk

            Wash your fascist a s s.

          • Mick Servian

            Ooooh.
            Now im a fascist as well?
            Funny how you guys throw that word around so easily.
            You don’t know me.
            Or you don’t know what fascist means.

          • zorbatheturk

            Clean your a s s anyway, turdboy.

          • Mick Servian

            Clever.
            That took you 30 min?

          • zorbatheturk

            You are a tu rd. That’s all I need to know.

    • Sania

      bastardje , where is ur upvoters?
      It is impossible , u are in zero…

      • zorbatheturk

        Tickle a scorpion bot.

    • Mick Servian

      All people are just idiots to you. “Believing propaganda”…lol. god forbid they think about their own lives.
      No wonder your Cia paymasters are losing the information war.

      • Scradje

        Kremtrolls are as stupid as they are malevolent. Most of them are sociopathic failures who have purchased one of pootler’s mail order brides in an attempt to bolster the kremtroll breeding programme. They do several one useful purpose however: they always accurately reflect the wormy minds of the savages and throwbacks they troll for. They can be seen drooling on the naцi site the daily stormer, or any of its sister sites, sputnik, russian insider, rt etc.

        • Mick Servian

          Have you just reread what you wrote?
          Here is a tip. You should.
          But nice Freudian projection you have going on.

        • Vlad Pufagtinenko

          I think you’re holding back today. :-).
          Have a good day

          • Scradje

            You too Vladers!

          • Sania

            bastardje, where is zombie the durk?
            In ur bedroom ? Okhh…

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ycx3mFZRP2s Simba Kijani

            Starry drug, he cannot hear u….

          • Sania

            Simba, how are u find me in the our big world?
            Good, good, ochen’ good….

  • Eolone

    It is impossible to distinguish between bots and conservatives. For both, facts don’t matter.

  • zorbatheturk

    RuSzsia sucks the big enchilada.