How Social Bots Play a Major Role in Spreading Fake News

A new study examined the digital dispersal of misinformation by automated accounts.

August 10, 2017 5:00 am
Bot Net
Diffusion network for the article titled “Spirit cooking: Clinton campaign chairman practices bizarre occult ritual," published by the conspiracy site four days before the 2016 U.S. election. (Shao, et. al.)

Fake news is a real problem, but one that can be contained.

A study has found evidence for the first time that details precisely how misinformation is spread on Twitter. The research shows how social bots, or automated accounts, play a crucial role in getting fake news to go viral.

Social bots are key players in getting the misinformation shared almost immediately after its published, according to MIT Technology Review. Chengcheng Shao and his research colleagues at Indiana University in Bloomington found the bots are programmed to direct their fake news tweets at influential accounts, which increases the likelihood of the false story going viral. While some humans witting aid these botnets by sharing the misinformation, many are easily duped.

For their study, researchers examined 400,000 claims made by 122 sites publishing false or satirical stories like Breitbart, Infowars, and The Onion. They traced over 14 million Twitter posts that mentioned the claims by building two websites, MIT Technology Review reports.

Hoaxy, fact-checked the fake news to certify it was misinformation, and Botometer, which determined if the accounts were humans or automated based on its last 200 tweets.

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