2016 was a hotly contested election year, but beyond the usual political mudslinging the battle for the White House was the center of perhaps the largest propaganda campaign ever conducted. By Facebook's own estimates, disinformation or inflammatory material related the to election reached as many as 150 million users on its site alone.
Similar material filtered through social media sites like Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter. One Twitter account, @Jenn_Abrams, received national media coverage several times before it was revealed to be an automated bot, and the account was suspended.
In an age where bots have become sophisticated enough to fool seasoned journalists how are regular users of social media meant to recognize and avoid them?
Well, here are some helpful tips and tricks courtesy of Mashable.
Bots are everywhere, so keep an eye out.
Researchers from the University of Southern California and Indiana University estimated that between 9-15% of all Twitter accounts were actually bots, around 30 million total.
Some bots complete automated tasks such as posting stories, but others are designed to support political candidates or purposely provoke other users.
"While the goals of their creators may vary, there are telltale signs that many bots share."
It's vital for everyone on social media to start with this assumption: If it riles you up, or seems to have that intent, there's a very good chance that the manipulators -- propagandists, bot creators, etc. -- are trying to fake you out. Be relentlessly skeptical.— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) February 17, 2018
Not so fantastic bots, and where to find them.
Some automated bots a very simplistic, like @EmojiMeadow, an account designed to add a little peace to an otherwise turbulent Twitter feed. Bots like that however are easy to spot and don't need to be avoided. The real culprits are the ones designed to trick.
The first step in identifying a bot is one of the easiest. Check the account profile. Does the profile sound like it was written by a person? Is there a profile picture of a person? If there is you can use sites like Google's reverse image search to tell if it's their real picture or something pulled off the internet.
Second, check the profile history. The team at Robhat labs created botcheck.me to help identify bots based on account activity.
"Behavior such as tweeting every few minutes in a full day, endorsing polarizing political propaganda (including fake news), obtaining a large follower account in a relatively small time span.
How to stop the robot revolution.
If you think you've come across a bot the best advice is to block or avoid them, but how can you help others do the same?
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have ways to report posts or accounts that violate the sites rules, just don't expect the site to take immediate, or for that matter any action in regards to reviewing or suspending the account. Some get taken down, but many more get through.
The most effective way to shut them down though is to just not engage them.
H/T - Mashable