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Truthy Project Uncovers Political Astroturfing On Twitter 99

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-really-go-vote dept.
An anonymous reader writes with a follow-up to the launch of the Truthy Project we discussed last month. "Tens of thousands of tweets this election season have turned out to be automated messages generated by employees of political campaigns, Indiana University researchers have found. Quoting: 'In one case, a network of nine Twitter accounts, all created within 13 minutes of one another, sent out 929 messages in about two hours as replies to real account holders in the hopes that these users would retweet the messages. The fake accounts were probably controlled by a script that randomly picked a Twitter user to reply to, and a message and a Web link to include. Although Twitter shut the accounts down soon after, the messages still reached 61,732 users.'"
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Truthy Project Uncovers Political Astroturfing On Twitter

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  • by Stregano (1285764) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @05:12PM (#34105746)
    companies, famous people, and now political people. Twitter is spam central unless you only follow your close friends.
    • by biryokumaru (822262) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @05:16PM (#34105806)
      Even then it can be... disappointing... [penny-arcade.com]
      • Sir, when I click on that Penny Arcade link, it damn well be the poop/twitter mashup.

      • I use Facebook to keep in contact with old work colleagues. One of them recently posted that their daughter had just started potty training.

        I posted that link, and commented "I'm fairly sure that in 16 years time, your daughter will be a little freaked out that you publicly documented her first instance of not shitting herself."
    • by h00manist (800926) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @06:38PM (#34106606) Journal
      It's about time we start using the information age to separate false from true. Centuries-old practices of paid rumor-spreaders and disinformation should have some more chance of being tracked down and exposed. We are all tricked every day, it's time we all start to figure out what is going on, and not just be fed our opinions via factoids filtered for angle and timing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Huntr (951770)
      I used to be in that same boat, but I've come around a bit. I follow mainly sports writers and feeds about my sports teams. Its a good way to keep up on a lot of sports news of interest to me. I don't think I'd use it for serious stuff. You might find twitter feeds from tech writers interesting, if you're into that.
      • by RulerOf (975607)

        You might find twitter feeds from tech writers interesting, if you're into that.

        Following a few select users has been fairly valuable for me in keeping up to date on the iOS jailbreak stuff and learning about new tweaks that hit the Cydia store. Otherwise speaking, most of the stuff on Twitter's rather annoying.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ozmanjusri (601766)
      Twitter is spam central unless you only follow your close friends.

      It's not just Twitter.

      All social media outlets are heavily infested with marketers trying to spin their products or trash their competitors. As soon as a service becomes popular, they're all over it like flies on rotting garbage.

      There was a brief few years when you could read Slashdot with the expectation that people expressing an opinion about a product actually held that opinion. Now it's more likely to come from a script or checklis

      • That's not true. Apple is great, and the iPad is not a "walled garden". It's a "curated experience", like the most awesome touch-screen museum in the world^H^H^H^H^ sorry, wrong script.
    • I'm shocked, SHOCKED! To find that astroturfing has been happening on Twitter!

  • Surprise! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Local ID10T (790134) <ID10T.L.USER@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @05:12PM (#34105748) Homepage

    Umm.. no. Not surprised at all.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Virtually all communication on the Internet is faked by somebody out to make a buck. BUY CHEEP V1AGR4!!! [buycheepviagr4.com]
  • Really? Politicians and political action groups - people who are willing to do just about anything to get elected or extend their power - are willing to 'astroturf'? Seems like a small sin compared to the shenanigans they normally stoop to.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by geekoid (135745)

      It's worse then the epople who get elected, far worse. In most cases there not that bad at all. I suspect the regulation regarding disclosure are why.

      It's the other groups that are the worst. The ones not directly affiliated with the politicians. Those people are the worst. A bunch of Zealots who think because things didn't got they way they want, the system is 'broken'.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by spun (1352)

        Not only that, but they are openly stating that if they don't get their way, "Second ammendment remedies" may be the only option. Whoah. That is truly scary. Don't get our way? Start a violent revolution! After all, your political opponents are godless communist muslim monsters bent on destroying America, so revolution is justified. Or something.

        • Soap, ballot, jury, cartridge. In that order.
          • by FatSean (18753)

            And the government's SWAT teams and un-manned drones will wipe all four of your boxes off the face of the planet like so many rural Pakistanis.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Soap, ballot, jury, cartridge. In that order.

            Ah, the Tyler Durden Option...

            You know what they say about having "enough soap", right?

          • Soap, ballot, jury, cartridge. In that order.

            Your predictable battleplan is your weakness. Mix it up a little the keep The Man on his toes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If politicians are willing to sell out the citizens in exchange for campaign contributions as low as a few hundred or measly few thousand dollars, is there any possibly doubt they might just maybe engage in less than ideal campaign practices.

    In reply to all the people who say that democracy is dead and we just have to live with this corrupt system, may I introduce you to the one (admittedly very difficult and long-term) alternative that actually has a chance of freeing us from politicians entirely?

    Read: htt [metagovernment.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Yvan256 (722131)

      Metagovernment can't work, Google and most of the other search engines ignore metas these days. /duck

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MightyMartian (840721)

        Clearly we need government by robots.txt!

        I personally welcome our new robots.txt overlords.

        • by sjames (1099)

          What about a jackbooted-thugs.txt?

          If somebody's Roomba wants to vacuum my kitchen, I'm fine with that.

    • The only alternative to our current disaster is a wiki page? I'm all for trying out new things, but it looks like there's not much there besides... well, more pages.

      You want to free us from politicians, great-- where do I sign up to put motherfuckers up against the wall?
    • by Miseph (979059) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @08:59PM (#34107624) Journal

      Lol, no. There are some things I cannot entrust to a piece of software, and the monopoly on legitimate violence is absolutely on that list.

      Beyond that, anyone who claims that democracy is dead, that corruption and fraud have finally become so ingrained in the system that it simply doesn't work as intended, etc. needs to actually learn some basic history of electoral politics. Plain and simple, this shit has been happening since long before day 1. Hell, most of the guys who wrote the fracking Declaration of Independence weren't even elected, and many of the ones who wrote the Constitution were either effectively self-appointed or elected by a process that can only charitably be described as "deeply flawed"... not that it mattered much, since the only people actually allowed to vote were older white men with sufficient means to show up at whatever obscure building was chosen for polling in the middle of fall harvest, and when you've got an almost wholly agrarian, rural society possessing no faster transportation than horseback that's the sort of thing that seriously cramps voter turnout.

      The fact of the matter is that, for all the dishonesty and shenanigans that happen every year, American politics are more open, transparent and free from tampering than they've ever been. Democracy is dead like nobody uses the internet.

  • On Twitter? Unpossible!

    Actually, the only thing I'm surprised to learn is that there may, in fact, be some legitimate accounts on Twitter. 99.999% of it seems to be spam judging by my few visits to the site, although maybe calling it spam is unfair; after all, you have to sign up to the individual streams of advertising.

    • Re:Fake Accounts? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by History's Coming To (1059484) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @06:31PM (#34106540) Journal
      It's a fair point, but I've been fairly surprised by Twitter. Just to be clear, I'm not generally a fan of social networking - I don't have a Facebook or Myspace page, and frankly believe that if people can't be bothered finding my email address or blog then I don't really want to hear from them.

      Twitter seems to self-censor quite well though. I follow about 50 people, mostly geek types like Marcus Chown (cosmology author) and a few work related people. I get almost zero spam in my feed, in fact the only real spam is spammer following me to try and get me to reciprocate. I do, by clicking "report spam" and hearing no more...as TFA points out, these accounts were swiftly shut down by the users who presumably did just that.

      I've actually found some very interesting people with Twitter, and very little spam, and I'm as surprised by that as anyone.
  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby AT comcast DOT net> on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @05:25PM (#34105894)

    These types of services have been available for a very long time. Why would it surprise anyone that professional shill's would pick up newer comm methods like twitter?

    Without doubt professional shills have accounts ready to go on just about any type of news site you can think of. Without question certain subjects bring up certain shills time after time on sites like Slashdot. Anymore this is just one more form of a perception management service to be offered by PR firms.

    The best thing to do would be to have a law that would require disclosure of such shilling (similar to advertising shill regulation for places like amazon.com). It wont stop many of the shills, but the cost of discovery could be punitive enough to give pause to those that hire them.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/25964/?p1=A4

    "The result is the Twitter chatbot @AI_AGW. Its operation is fairly simple: Every five minutes, it searches twitter for several hundred set phrases that tend to correspond to any of the usual tired arguments about how global warming isn't happening or humans aren't responsible for it. It then spits back at the twitterer who made that argument a canned response culled from a database of hundreds."

    Evil, no wait!

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @05:28PM (#34105940)

    I would argue the findings don't matter a bit, because they didn't reach people not interested in seeing the messages sent.

    So what if one holder generated twenty accounts in a second? The accounts exist in a void, and are only "truthy" if they trick people into following them. THEN I would say there was skullduggery at work, but they showed no proof of that.

    On top of that, Twitter is a terrible outlet for spam because the first time you see someone you don't care about from someone you just unfollow them or never follow them to start. What good did it do? Again, the people actually following and receiving those messages WANTED to see them. I don't generally like or use twitter much myself but that is a huge benefit twitter has as a communications channel, in that it's immune from sent spam (now people who follow you just to spam you with presence, that's another matter but not under discussion).

    On a side note I like how the only people they named explicitly were republicans and unnamed were some of the bigger supposed problem accounts. This was pretty obviously a kind of astroturfing, in and of itself... make up a problem where none exists and claim Republicans are at the heart of it, all on election day. Smooth.

    • by elFisico (877213)

      I second that. Twitter is in principle spam-proof... if people would stop using auto-re-follow- and auto-retweet-apps. To get followers on twitter you have to provide some kind of interesting content, even if it is only retweets of news messages. Advertisers really have to invest some time and keep the spam-to-content ratio low or people just cut the link and unfollow them.

    • by scot4875 (542869)

      In other words: "I'm going to rationalize that it's ok because it's my guy that's doing it."

      --Jeremy

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by farnsworth (558449)

      What good did it do? Again, the people actually following and receiving those messages WANTED to see them. I don't generally like or use twitter much myself but that is a huge benefit twitter has as a communications channel, in that it's immune from sent spam

      I frequently see re-tweets of tweets that I'm not interested in seeing via people that I follow. So it's not exactly pub-sub -- messages can and do leak across explicit "follows".

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      I would argue the findings don't matter a bit, because they didn't reach people not interested in seeing the messages sent.

      From the _summary_:

      The fake accounts were probably controlled by a script that randomly picked a Twitter user to reply to...

      You don't have to be followed/following to reply to someone else's tweets. And they'll still see it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by elewton (1743958)

      The fake accounts can give weight to a shill statement which is available in the search for aggregators and analysts.

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      On a side note I like how the only people they named explicitly were republicans and unnamed were some of the bigger supposed problem accounts. This was pretty obviously a kind of astroturfing, in and of itself... make up a problem where none exists and claim Republicans are at the heart of it, all on election day. Smooth.

      Bloomington Indiana is a blue island in a red sea.

    • by Mukashi (826020)
      You're forgetting hashtags. We saw similar things happening in the Australian election, where Twitter shills and bots (acting primarily for the Labor party, which appeared to be a bit more switched onto social media overall than was the Coalition) were used not only to spread messages, but also to retweet favourable messages (sometimes posted by themselves, sometimes just ones from the general public) so as to artificially promote certain messages to top tweets for the #ausvotes hashtag.
  • See Karl?!?!? I TOLD YOU we shouldn't have created those accounts so closely together...
  • I for one welcome our new bot overlords

  • No wondering other non-western countries hold a very cautious and suspicious view of it. I bet during chaotic periods and time leading to it when tweet volume exploded, twitter wasn't so keen, quick or even willing to detect and shut down suspicious accounts and activities (read, CIA, NED, etc)

  • Was it as obvious as the "hot chick" named Tanya486 who follows you, is following 56000 other people, and has 2 followers?

    • by Macrat (638047)

      Was it as obvious as the "hot chick" named Tanya486 who follows you, is following 56000 other people, and has 2 followers?

      Or the 500,000 Facebook "users"?

  • by avatar139 (918375) * on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @06:14PM (#34106396)

    Personally I'm outraged by this news!

    Most politicians (and by that I mean Congress) waste enough time on my nickel (speaking as someone who would be a taxpayer if I made enough money for the federal government not to refund pretty much all of it ;) that quite honestly I would prefer that they would be required to Tweet every 15 minutes so we can account for every moment of their time in office!

    I'd also like a requirement that Pictures and Geotagging have to be included, not just to ensure against fraudulent Tweets, but also to be used in evidence in the next (and there will always be a next time) sexual misconduct charge! In fact, given the fact that anyone in public service should not have any expectation of privacy, let's include a requirement for an entry whenever a member of congress enters the restroom! This way we can clearly establish not just who took the last square of toilet paper and/or soap without reporting it to maintenance, but whether or not a congressman really is reaching for a paper left on the floor and not, in fact, asking for sexual favors from the man in stall next to him in a restroom!

  • They're on the internets!!!1
  • Wrong focus (Score:3, Insightful)

    by M. Baranczak (726671) on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @06:31PM (#34106538)

    If people are voting based on what Twitter tells them then we've got much bigger problems.

  • ...while I dust off my 'surprised' face...

    .^.^.
    0 0
    <O>

    there we go.

  • If the spam is relevant and constructive [xkcd.com], then it does not matter if it was generated by an astroturfing script.
  • Instead of calling it AstroTurfing, lets call it:

    TurfHogging
    or
    TurfHacking
    or
    Lies
    or
    BrainWashing
    or
    BullShit by any other name would smell as sweet ...

    Vote Early, Vote Often!

1: No code table for op: ++post

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