Two College Kids Are Trying to Do What Twitter Won’t: Crack Down on Bots

UC-Berkeley computer science students Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte created ''

November 1, 2017 9:00 am

Two college students have launched a data-driven counterattack to the fake news and false information spreading through Twitter. Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte, who are both 20-years-old and studying computer science at the University of California-Berkeley, launched a Google Chrome browser extension that inserts a button onto every Twitter profile and tweet that reads, “,” reports Wired

When you click the button, you get a run down of whether or not the Twitter profile is run by a real human or some sort of automation. This is based on the pair’s own machine learning model, which is targeted to pinpoint propaganda bots posting about U.S. politics. 

The duo are not the only outside investigators trying to crack down on social media scams. There is Botometer, a tool created by Indiana University computer scientists. It attempts to classify Twitter accounts as real humans or fake. Then there is Hamilton 68, a dashboard that tracks the conversations of suspected bot accounts. But Bhat and Phadte’s product hopes to teach people by dragging the fake bots into the “virtual townsquare,” writes Wired. The goal is that eventually, people will unfollow the fakes on their own.

Twitter has repeatedly claimed that the company is making a good faith effort to block the onslaught of fake news and fake accounts.  The company said in September that they had discontinued 201 accounts determined to be linked to Russian-connected Facebook users. It also said that globally, it catches 3.2 million suspicious accounts each week.

But Bhat and Phadte, who have been friends since they were kids, think that their product can help. Bhat told Wired that by making data available for other fellow Americans, their Chrome extension is “pushing back” against Russian interference.

But if two 20-year-olds can figure out how to make Twitter better, why can’t Twitter itself? Some argue Twitter allows bots for good reasons, like letting third parties access its platform and automate their tweets. But that access is easy to exploit. For its part, Twitter claims that bots are only five percent of the user platform. But some researchers estimate that number is as high as 50 percent.

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