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Twitter Is Crawling With Bots and Lacks Incentive To Expel Them (bloomberg.com) 95

An anonymous reader shares a report: On Wednesday, the exterior of Twitter's San Francisco headquarters bore an eerie message: "Ban Russian Bots." Someone -- the company doesn't know who -- projected the demand onto the side of its building. Bots, or automated software programs, can be programmed to periodically send out messages on the internet. Now Twitter is scrambling to explain how bots controlled by Russian meddlers may have been used to impact the 2016 president election. Twitter was designed to be friendly to bots. They can help advertisers quickly spread their messages and respond to customer service complaints. Research from the University of Southern California and Indiana University shows that 9 to 15 percent of active Twitter accounts are bots. Many innocuously tweet headlines, the weather or Netflix releases. After the election, there was little discussion inside the company about whether the platform may have been misused, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because it is private. But the ubiquity and usefulness of bots did come up. At one point, there were talks about whether Twitter should put a marking on bot accounts, so that users would know they were automated, one of the people said. Yet most of the conversation after the election focused on whether Trump's tweets violated Twitter's policies, the person said.
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Twitter Is Crawling With Bots and Lacks Incentive To Expel Them

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  • As long as the bots are seeing advertisements, it's okay.

    As long as humans do what the bots tell them to, it's okay.
  • by Train0987 ( 1059246 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @09:47AM (#55362179)

    Why is there no outrage about David Brock spending $1 million per month on paid trolls for Clinton during the election? Hell they were proud to brag about it at the time. Those same people are now pushing The Russians! nonsense.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Both sides used paid shills, or at least organizations supporting each side used them. Not news.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Have we really forgotten to thank Correct The Record for Trump's historic election victory? They single-handedly turned every online Hillary supporter into a suspected paid shill, all for the low, low price of $6,000,000!

      Joke of the day: Hillary Clinton was asked if Harvey Weinstein's behavior reminded her of her husband. She said: "Close, but no cigar".

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        I think they changed their name to shareblue or something along those lines after they managed to help tank the democrat party under the Correct The Record label. But don't worry, they'll get it right this time! It'll only cost you $12,000,000

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2017 @10:24AM (#55362467)

      Why is there no outrage about David Brock spending $1 million per month on paid trolls for Clinton during the election? Hell they were proud to brag about it at the time. Those same people are now pushing The Russians! nonsense.

      David Brock is an American Neo-Liberal political operative, author, and commentator who founded the media watchdog group Media Matters for America.

      Source: Wikipedia (emphasis mine)

      It's not illegal for Americans to exercise their 1st amendment rights to political speech.

      Spending money to get out a political message is constitutionally protected speech, per the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

      The whole reason David Brock can spend money like this is because of the conservatives behind Citizens United.
      That's right: Your problem with David Brock is your chicken, come home to roost.

      Now, the emphasis above: He is an American citizen.
      Americans can spend all the money they want to influence American elections.
      However, foreign nationals, foreign companies, and foreign countries cannot do this.
      Americans who knowingly accept money from foreign nationals, foreign companies, or foreign countries to influence elections are breaking federal law, and headed for federal prison.

      And now you know why there is no outrage about David Brock (exercising his rights as an American), and there is outrage about Russian influence.

      • You're wasting your breath. You're responding to the Russian influence.

        • The argument can be made that you're the Russian spy assigned here to discredit Democrats even more. See how fun this nonsense is?

          • Yea, if you'd only been on this site for about a week you could probably make that argument while keeping a straight face, but anyone actually paying attention knows which one of us is the astroturfer.

      • I'm pretty sure paid political ads have to be identified as such, and the funders identified. The ShareBlue army of shills pretends to be normal people. That's why they're so destructive to democracy. Their goal is to be, and I quote, "ungovernable" and cause so much chaos that America is seriously harmed. It's treason from within that is the real killer, TEH ROOSHINS simply lack the capability to do any real damage.
    • Am I hearing you right that you think it should be illegal for Americans to participate in American elections, including funding ads, if Russians are barred from doing so?

    • by doom ( 14564 )

      Why is there no outrage about David Brock spending $1 million per month on paid trolls for Clinton during the election?

      Whenever I mention Brock on reddit's /r/politics, the post is immediately moderated down. At a guess, someone is running some bots to get this point to slide down the memory hole.

      • Or, you know, it could be that other people think you're an idiot who's posting moronic comments.

        I'm just saying don't blame malice when (your) incompetence is a sufficient explanation.

        • by doom ( 14564 )

          My usual line is something like "It was a new low for a Democratic candidate when the Hillary campaign hired Brock to release Brock-puppets on-line to demonize Bernie supporters."

          The first few times that was hit I figured it was just Hillary supporters. Now I'm wondering if the Brock puppets have really all gone home.

          But assuming good faith and intelligent moderation over at reddit... that really would be moronic.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hard to be a bigger source of disinformation than the twitter account for POTUS.
    • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @10:00AM (#55362303) Homepage
      You cannot use big words like "disinformation". You need to use smaller simpler words that people more easily understand. Like "fake news". Even better, those words should be emotionally charged. Don't use words like "intelligence" or "educated". Use words like "the elite". Even entire phrases like "obscenely rich paying a fair share" can be replaced with "tax burden".
  • that are transparently enforced?
    • It is transparently obvious that Twitter's policies are to allow whatever brings more traffic to the site and more ad views.
  • As more people become aware of the ever-degrading state of Twitter, and more people think there's something to gain from deploying bots on it, the bot:human ratio will eventually reach the point where they're just not making any money. Bots don't view ads, and they certainly don't contribute meaningfully to conversations.
    • I'm actually going to partially rescind the last part, given the lack of meaningful conversation that seems to take place in the most public areas of twitter. It seems like it follows a cycle of: famousguy/troll/something else posts something inflammatory, people rage/retort/retaliate, repeat.
  • How can twitter know for sure that a tweet was created by a bot rather than a person? Short of requiring people to solve a captcha for every tweet, anyone who wants to hide the fact that a bot wrote the tweet can very easily do so.

    IMO the only thing that can be done is education the twitterverse. People need to understand that no tweet can be considered trustworthy, in and of itself.

    • I'd imagine bots generally use the API. I think the question is about whether to revoke the API or flag primary-users of it, but reporters don't know what an API is so they just say "bots". Sure, you COULD post JSON every time you wanna post a tweet... but you're not seeing ads anyway in that case so you're not a "useful" person to the company.
      • I'd guess all of the front ends use the API too. But, you're right in a way. The front ends probably have a secure means of accessing the API.

        But all restricting access would do is push the bots or mechanical turks to operate the old-fashioned way through the front end. It would have the effect of increasing both their and Twitter's traffic costs, increasing their CPU costs, slowing them, and thus reducing their numbers to those who could afford the increase, but that's about it. It wouldn't solve the probl

        • I meant, and totally guessing, but there's probably some sort of REST API which is accessible, whereas standard form-and-POST are used for the web.
          • You're undoubtedly correct. The problem is that if there were some kind of API restriction, then someone who really wanted to could very easily fake being a real person using a browser. Especially if they had an vested interest in doing so, such as one country trying to undermine the elections of another. In such a case, adding API restrictions would be like trying to use a beach chair to stop a flash flood.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @10:52AM (#55362673)
    >> 9 to 15 percent of active Twitter accounts are bots

    Having worked in marketing briefly (shudder), I'd be surprised by any ratio that isn't close to 50/50. And a good chunk of the remaining 50% of humans also seem to be in marketing, either tuning their bots, watching what competitors bots are doing, or otherwise looking busy to keep pulling their social media paycheck. Personally, I've probably posted about 10K tweets, almost all through engines that magnify/schedule/repeat through networks. But I can't say I have enough time to actually follow Twitter for my own interests unless I'm actually at a con or other event where the feed provides some value, and the only email I see from Twitter is when someone contacts me directly.
  • Come on, people. The Russians no more affected the 2016 election than my dead grandmother. The outcome was influenced by the fact Hillary was the worst candidate foisted on the American people in the history of the Republic. So, you liberals keep whining about outside influence.

    Know what REAL outside influence is? How about a $500,000 Russian donation to the Clinton Foundation for her help in securing uranium mining rights in Canada. Or are you all too stupid to understand that?

    • The Russians! narrative is not meant to convince any Trump voters, it's meant to create an excuse for Democrats so the corrupt machine can remain in control of that party. There's not a single Trump voter saying to themselves today "Dang, the Russians tricked me!"

      • by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @12:27PM (#55363399)

        The Russians! narrative is not meant to convince any Trump voters, it's meant to create an excuse for Democrats so the corrupt machine can remain in control of that party. There's not a single Trump voter saying to themselves today "Dang, the Russians tricked me!"

        Of course not, all Trump voters know they're infallible, and that the coal jobs are coming back, and the wall is going to keep out the damn Mexicans.

      • Just like "but her emails!" was meant to give cover for otherwise god-fearing conservatives who went on to vote for a philandering thief and liar who brags about sexual assault and says "two Corinthians." People rarely realize when they have been psychologically primed to make a stupid decision. There are several studies that show how easy emotions are to manipulate and how easy memories are to change. Worse yet, economic research has shown that when people realize they made the wrong choice, the tendency i
  • Haven't you heard? The real attack vector for those evil Russkies was Pokemon Go [cnn.com].

    I swear I'm not making this stuff up. You couldn't, it's just too funny and outre.

  • And what makes you think I'm a bot? How do you feel about ?
  • OK, I'm going to tell you a truth that will shock you.

    Twitter, and other social media platforms like Facebook, can both remove and censor bots, especially Russian bots and Nazi bots and accounts.

    Want proof?

    Set your home country and location data to Germany.

    Voila. Gone.

    The correct interpretation is both Twitter and FB and other sites like Pintrest and so on can all do this, but choose not to.

    Why not?

    Because:

    1. It artificially inflates their metrics. Their account totals, their ad buy counts.

    2. It's not cheap

  • 9-15%? I'd sooner believe 90-150%.

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