Bots on Twitter share two-thirds of links to popular websites: Pew

Bots on Twitter share two-thirds of links to popular websites: Pew
From TechCrunch - April 9, 2018

Its official: Bots are doing a lot of PR grunt work on Twitterespecially when it comes to promoting porn websites.

That perhaps unsurprising conclusion about what automated Twitter accounts are link sharing comes courtesy of a new study by the PewResearch Center which set out to quantify one aspect of bot-based activity in the Twittersphere.

Specifically the researchers wanted to know what proportion of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by automated accounts, rather than by human users?

The answer they came up with is that around two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by bots rather than humans.

The researchers say they were interested in trying to understand a bit more about how information spreads on Twitter. Though for this study they didnt try to delve directly into more tricky (and sticky) questions about botslike whether the information being spread by these robots is actually disinformation .

Pews researchers also didnt try to determine whether the automated link PR activity actually led to significant levels of human engagement with the content in question. (Something that can be difficult for external researchers to determine because Twitter does not provide full access to how it shapes the visibility of tweets on its platform, nor data on how individual users are making use of controls and settings that can influence what they see or dont on its platform).

So, safe to say, many bot-related questions remain to be robustly investigated.

But here at least is another tidbit of intel about what automated accounts are up to vis-a-vis major media websitesalthough, as always, these results are qualified as suspected bots as a consequence of how difficult it is to definitively identify whether an online entity is human or not. (Pew used Indiana Universitys Botometermachine learning tool for identifying suspected bots; relying on a score of 0.43 or higher to declare likely automationbased on a series of their own validation exercises.)

Pews top-line conclusion is that suspected automated accounts played a prominent role in tweeting out links to content across the Twitter ecosystemwith an estimated 66% of all tweeted links to the most popular websites likely posted by automated accounts, rather than human users.

The researchers determined website popularity by first conducting an analysis of 1.2 million English-language tweets containing links (pulling random sample tweet data via Twitters streaming API)which they boiled down to a list of2,315 popular sites, i.e. once duplicates and dead links were weeded out.

They then categorized these into content domains, with any links that pointed to any other content on Twitter (i.e. rather than externally) collected into a single category.

After that they were able to compare how (suspected) bots vs (probable) humans were sharing different categories of content.

Below are the results for content being PRed by suspected botsas noted above its unsurprisingly dominated by adult content. Though bots were found to be responsive for the majority of link shares to popular websites across the category board. Ergo, robots are already doing a major amount of PR grunt work

(Looking at that, a good general rule of thumb seems to be that if a Twitter account is sharing links to porn sites its probably not human. Or, well, its a humans account thats been hacked.)

The researchers also found that a relatively small number of automated accounts were responsible for a substantial share of the links to popular media outlets on Twitter. The 500 most-active suspected bot accounts alone were responsible for 22% of all the links to these news and current events sites over the period in which this study was conducted. By contrast, the 500 most-active human accounts were responsible for just 6% of all links to such sites, they write.

Clearly bots arent held back by human PR weaknesseslike needing to stop working to eat or sleep.

Pew says its analysis also suggests thatcertain types of news and current events sites appear especially likely to be tweeted by automated accounts. Among the most prominent of these are aggregation sites, or sites that primarily compile content from other places around the web. Anestimated 89% of links to these aggregation sites over the study period were posted by bot accounts, they write.


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